Never take the absence of a no for a yes

struts huvudet i sandenSales people are taught to never take no for an answer.

Consultants should be taught never  to take the absence of a now as a yes.

As a consultant, you don’t have any executive powers towards your client. You consult. You analyse. You suggest. You explain. But you don’t decide. That’s the prerogative of your client. And their obligation. Therefore a key aspect of consulting is about closely aligning with your sponsors and to be sure to have them on board – explicitly – before going ahead with anything; an implementation, a financial commitment, a presentation or workshop. And “aligning” includes making sure to have explicit approval of your suggestion, your approach.

Without that explicit approval, it’s far too easy for some sponsors to hide from responsibility, to duck for adverse consequences (which, nevertheless, have been weighed against the benefits and found worth the trouble) and – to hang you, the consultant, out to dry. Believe me. I’ve been there.

The best way to avoid this risk is not to “solve problems for clients” but “to help clients solve their problems” which I will write more about in a coming blog post.

The second best way is to hang in there, to be persistent in making sure you get an explicit approval by your client.

Don’t go ahead without an explicit yes.

Think of your employer as a distribution channel of You

U.S. Air Force image by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy
U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy

Uneven relationships usually don’t work out well in the long run (at least not for both parties). That old truth holds water for romantic relationships as well as for between countries and….on the job market.

Employers complain about the low employee engagement revealed in their annual employee surveys. Duh! What do they really expect when they ask us once per year – only – what we think, wait for ages to reveal the cherry-picked results and in-between do nothing?

Why do employers expect us to be emotionally engaged in them when they are merely rationally engaged in us employees – at most?

Work with the mindset of your employer as a distribution channel for You instead.

When I started thinking of these things  couple of decades ago, I concluded that it felt much more sane and constructive to think of my employer at the time as a distribution channel for me, my competence and my capacity. The difference wasn’t obvious on the outside, but very clear on the inside – in my mindset. But there, it was striking.

  • The clients were my clients and my focus was on creating long term value for them
  • At the same time I had to ensure that my distribution channel “gave me the right shelf exposure”. Therefore I needed to work on personal branding internally so my “channel” knew what I was capable of, for which engagements and clients I was a good fit and presented me to them.
  • It became a natural, personal urge to always keep up with the edge of knowledge and maintain my value for clients
  • At the same time, my personal integrity was reinforced as I couldn’t allow my brand to get tarnished by delivering sub-standard quality or not adding value.
  • I stopped worrying about employment security. Instead I worked for “engageability”. To shift distribution channel doesn’t feel as dramatic or risky as changing employer
  • Actually, I think this mindset made me an ideal employed consultant. I displayed all the kinds of behaviours desired by my employer. That I did it for myself, not for them, was secondary.

Work buyer and work seller?

I realise that the mindset of an employer as a distribution channel of You might be a better fit for a consultant than for many other professions. Luckily, there’s another frame of mind that I think can be useful also for other professionals; to stop thinking of employers and employees (or work-giver and work-taker as is the direct translation of the words used in my native language, Swedish), but instead think of work buyers and work sellers. Once again, a more level relationship.

What do you think? Do you rather work for a work buyer or a distribution channel than for an employer?

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