By Gary Hinkle
In the last post, I wrote about what you should look for when you hire a consultant. When a consultant plays a team lead role, the goal is speedy success and rapid termination. Whether stakeholders like the consultant or not isn’t the point. What matters is that the business objectives are met.
Relationships between employees who will continue working together do matter, so team leaders (who are employees, not consultants) need to apply methods that are different from consultants’ methods in order to quickly achieve results – and one goal of those methods is to build lasting, sustainable relationships. Relationships take time to develop, so the following advice might seem counter-intuitive when time is of the essence.
Don’t Rush It
Think for a minute about those times on the road when a driver zips past you, recklessly weaving in traffic, trying to get where he’s going as fast as possible. As he comes close to sideswiping every car he passes, drivers yell obscenities and wave hand gestures at the speeding idiot. Miles ahead you catch up with him because he got stuck in heavy traffic. People recognize the car that nearly ran them off the road and they wave at him again.
The reckless driver wasn’t interested in the other people, which is the foundation of building relationships. He’s only interested in going fast. At work if we do the same thing, it has the same effect. It demonstrates that relationships aren’t important. I’m not saying that going fast is always reckless, but some leaders are indeed reckless. Even a conscientious, hard-charging leader can be perceived as running people over if they don’t get on board or get out of the way.
Successful leaders know the importance of building relationships to build trust, and it takes time. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship. A high level of trust requires familiarity—not just in passing, but real familiarity. At best, we can accelerate familiarity through lots of interaction, but we can’t really declare real familiarity with someone after just a matter of hours, or days.
Delivering Unwelcome News
When changes are needed in an organization, ego, denial and resistance can be huge obstacles. The person in charge – the person with the power to make the necessary changes – is often the biggest obstacle. After all, the person in charge is responsible for the way things are, and if change is required, that reflects badly on him. Or at least that’s how he may see it.
Influencing someone in a position of power takes credibility. Credibility springs from several sources: track record (has he or she done this successfully before?), trustworthiness, and a high level of commitment are among them.
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Building trust takes time because it’s complicated. When anyone—a consultant or anyone else—tells someone in power “the truth” about what needs to change, here’s what the leader is thinking:
Is this person really telling me the truth?
Is this person looking out for my best interests?
Would this really be best for our organization? Is it really important right now?
I know this is right, but how will I be perceived if we make these changes?
Should I get another opinion?
A consultant’s approach must be to overcome objections quickly without fear of bruising egos. Consultants can be very assertive, more assertive than an employee can be, and this often helps overcome denial and resistance. Building and sustaining good rapport with the person in power is important, but so is the timeline of the business objective. The consultant has to be willing to take big risks in order to meet the timeline.
Once I really upset a CEO because I hired an engineer he didn’t like. As a consultant, I didn’t really have the authority to hire the engineer without the CEO’s approval, but I managed to make it happen. He got over that pretty quickly after I smoothed things over, but then he found out how much he was paying the engineer, and that upset him all over again. He escorted me to the parking lot and chewed me out big time. I explained to him why the engineer’s compensation was appropriate, and after a few days he agreed. Crisis over.
I knew when I hired the expensive engineer that I risked upsetting the client, but I did so deliberately for the sake of expediency. The decision was in the best interest of the organization. If I were an employee, I would never have done that! I’d have kept trying to persuade the CEO it was the right thing to do and waited for his approval before hiring. It would have taken much longer. Today, I’m happy to say that CEO and I have a good relationship, but it could have gone the other way.
Hit the Date or Maintain Relationships?
Long-term relationships can be more important than meeting a timeline and driving change quickly, despite objections. Business leaders don’t always consider this trade-off, but it’s a critical factor when change is needed quickly.