Clients Don’t Care What Consultants Think

Lesson Learned #4

One of the key things clients expect in a performance improvement project is that their managers will take ownership of the changes that are required to improve performance. That’s not always an easy thing to do because often not every manager is bought into the actual need to change. We have a number of steps in our methodology that are designed to help managers take ownership of the project but, one of the best came to us from a senior executive at a division of H.J. Heinz.

Before the middle of a project we have a key meeting that we call the Focus Meeting. Like the name implies it is designed to “focus” both us and the managers who are working with us. Often there are many good ideas but you have to pare them down into specific things that you can accomplish in a reasonable time frame. The Focus Meeting is a fairly big deal where the current state is presented and critiqued and the changes required to get to a better state are visually displayed. For years we would work through the night creating these big displays and then our own consultants would present them to senior executives while the managers looked on. One year, the day before the Focus Meeting we dropped in to see the senior executive who had hired us and gave him a quick overview of what to expect the next day.

After we finished he said, “It sounds great, but I don’t want you presenting this to me. I don’t really care what you think. I only care about what my managers think. I’d like them to present this tomorrow.” We mumbled something like “of course” and left the room, trying not to let the client see the panic in our eyes. It very quickly dawned on us that he was right, and our approach was wrong. It wasn’t important what we thought. The only thing that mattered was whether or not managers believed they could improve.

We worried that we hadn’t properly engaged the managers to the point where they would be comfortable presenting to their boss. Fortunately we were working with very strong managers at the time who embraced the chance to speak for themselves and the meeting was successful.

From that project forward, client managers always present the Focus Meeting and we say very little unless asked. It forced us to reengineer the front end of our projects to ensure managers were properly engaged from the opening meetings.