Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Doing the Right Thing 

Doing the right thing is easy. It is persuading the client to do it that is hard. This bit of wisdom was distilled from years of counseling and consulting. I was reflecting on it yesterday because of several situations our agency is handling.

The corollary for this wisdom is that a client almost always knows the right thing to do. Many consultants and counselors -- I among them -- have learned that the right answer to a client's challenge is almost always found within the client's organization. The problem is that the client hasn't been listening to the person(s) who proposes it. The client cannot believe this person(s) two or three levels down has the answer to a tough problem. A prophet is without honor in his own country.

A consultant has a marginally better chance of getting a client to listen because the client pays for the consultant. But, even a consultant faces a challenge. Sometimes one places personal credibility at risk in telling a client what to do. The client doesn't want to do it. There are 25 -- no, 26 -- reasons why it won't work. The consultant has to knock down the 26 reasons over time and get the client to act.

It is a matter of trust. If the client trusts you, the client usually goes along. If the client is doubtful, nothing happens. That is why the counselor and consultant work hard to maintain credibility. They must know when and where to pick battles, to know what to leave untouched and where to begin change. There are no formulae for this. It is a matter of judgment. Counselors and consultants who come in like bulls rarely succeed. They crush opposition, but they don't kill it, and it rises again silently to sabotage everything they try to do.

The most important person to convince is the CEO. If you have the CEO on your side, no one can stand in your way. If you don't, you are condemned to stutter steps of progress.

The right thing is often simple and evident. But, most of the time, the right thing doesn't get done.


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