Should customers drive consultants to delivering work for free?

work for freeA recent discussion over coffee with a highly respected finance and investment group prompted this blog, a subject which has been carried on for as many years has now started to emerge again with customers seeking free advice and work from consultants, the question is why?

The $101 billion consulting market is jammed with boutique shops looking to peddle their wisdom. The big question is: What is all that advice worth? Or more important from an entrepreneur’s perspective, what are customers willing to pay?

New entrepreneur consultants tend to undercharge for their services. The mistake is understandable. First, it’s difficult to know the going rate because most consultants vigilantly guard their prices. Second, despite the seemingly small barriers to entry, first-time consultants usually don’t have the strong client relationships that giants like McKinsey & Co., Accenture and Marsh & McLennan have built; so, not surprisingly, small fries try to attract attention by competing on price. Finally (and perhaps ironically), many consultants simply underestimate how much a business will cost to run, says Bill Mooney of William Mooney Associates, a consultancy to consultants.

When consultants commiserate about their projects with their managers, colleagues, project managers or account managers, the most difficult issues are given the same  responses, the six words every consultant hates to hear: “You should have managed their expectations.”

  • Client will not cooperate? “You should have managed their expectations.”
  • Client won’t let you do your thing? “You should have managed their expectations.”
  • Client is not happy? “You should have …” And so on.

What’s one to do? Besides watching scope, budgets, deadlines, juggling conflicting requirements, and now managing expectations? Where does one find these customers? And if you find them, how do you manage them?

Expectations are deeper and broader than “requirements:”

Expectations are your client’s vision of a future state or action, usually unstated but which is critical to your success: A client who “wants the project to be quick and delivered,” or who “wants to be involved in all the details” or “not involved at all,” or who expects that your project will result in “reducing his work force by 80%.”

Expectation management techniques are very valuable in client service work. It’s partly for our client’s benefit – to keep their eyes on the ball, to work towards the same goals, etc. We also do it for our own benefit because our project targets are sometimes less precise than we wish they were, our performance criteria are demanding and many activities, such as presentations or deliverables are frequent opportunities for clients to pass judgment on us.

Expectations are a three-way association:

1. They are a primary measure of your success as a consultant. In your client’s mind, satisfaction is how close you have come to their expectations. Not how close you were to the wording of the contract or the scope of work or even the performance criteria, but to their expectations. It may not even be the real results of the project but the process with which you arrive there.

2. Expectations drive all of your client’s actions and decisions. It’s not their everyday duties or their “assigned role” or your very rational explanations that drive them, but their expectations.

3. The consultants expectation needs to be met based on the delivery of 1 and 2, and a payment whether this being an upfront commitment fee, retained monthly fee or tasking fee needs to be paid and agreed in advance of any work being committed to or delivered, payment is more than a fee, payment is a psychological bond between the consultant and the customer and no respect will ever be sanctioned as a direct result of ‘free work’ or contingent work on success only.

To be sure, consultants’ fees vary depending on location and target industry. But there is a common methodological framework for arriving at an attractive pricing structure–both for the consultant and  customers.

You can find success in consulting by developing certain qualities. They make you more effective. After years of consulting experience, I have distilled these qualities into a top ten list.

1. Professionalism

Consultants should always keep in mind that client relationship should remain at a professional level. It is sometimes easy for consultants to take on an “employee attitude,” which in many environments can backfire on the consultant and actually create a negative situation for the project.

2. Time Management

Consultants should look for ways to adjust their work style to accommodate the schedule, budget and overall requirements of the project. This is particularly true when faced with pressure to maintain high quality within finite time and budget constraints.

3. Judgment

Consultants are required to have good judgment when confronted with a problem. We should not jump to conclusions. Consultants should take time to consider the facts and to get feedback from their peers and management before reaching a decision.

4.Team Player

Consultants must demonstrate that they are team players and are willing to learn from team members, genuinely valuing the input and expertise of others. It is important to establish a collaborative relationship with peers.

5. Good Communication Skills

The consultant should have excellent oral and written communication skills. Since we are often viewed as the subject matter expert (SME), we should be able to communicate our opinions effectively. In addition to English, it is beneficial to know the language widely used by the employees of the company. In some countries, the documentation may be in a local language. Ideally, the consultant can easily read this language without employing any translators.

6. Expert Knowledge

Clients typically approach an external consultant for two reasons: 1) the client expects the consultant to have more expertise than the organization’s internal resources or 2) because clients do not have sufficient time to solve their own problems or implement their own projects. As consultants, our level of knowledge should be broad enough to know when to ask questions and/or where to research to find solutions. At all times, the consultant should remain current by reading journals, magazines, informative websites and through networking with fellow consultants. We should know how to apply theory into practice and also be skillful in using appropriate tools (software, professional journals, etc.) to function efficiently in the job.

7. Good Listening Skills

During the consulting process, consultants will meet different people with unique characteristics. Some will be verbose, others reticent. Having excellent listening skills will encourage all to talk freely. This leads to more information sharing which, in the end, can make the consulting process more streamlined.

8. Roles and Responsibilities

It is important for consultants to understand the responsibilities of their role, as well as the practices and parameters of the job. You may notice that each client has a different take on what the role of a consultant entails. Clarifying your client’s expectations and deliverables beforehand may possibly be the single most important task one undertakes. Remember that in a consulting role the client also has duties and responsibilities: they are bringing you in to recommend what they should implement. If they fail to implement within the agreed terms then you can’t help them further and it’s time to walk away.

Remember that each client has his or her own preconceived view of the consultant’s abilities and capabilities—views that will almost certainly differ from reality by varying degrees. Some clients expect the consultant to be a god and recommend solutions that will fix everything that is wrong with their organization; others expect one to be nothing much more than a glorified mechanic called in to fix the photocopiers. Clarifying what you can and cannot do, and what you are willing to do, are paramount concerns before commencing work.

9. Involve Other Consultants

Saying “I don’t know” is often a very good answer to a question. An even better answer is “I don’t know, but I know people who do know.” Consultants do not know everything, and should not be expected to know everything. Saying, “I do not know” will not damage your prestige. As an example, if your client has a problem related to legal issues, try to consult with a legal consultant to help your client find a solution to the problem.

10. Reputation

Protect your public reputation above everything else—you will not get an easy chance to repair it if it is damaged. If necessary, walk away from situations or contracts that could potentially damage your reputation. Consulting is not simply contracting by another name; it involves duties of care and levels of accountability, responsibility and integrity that may well be greater than those of the client. If that proves to be the case and you find a client’s operations and methods are not ethical, then it is time to walk away. Be selective about the clients for whom you work.

work for free

The figure above, the red line represents your client’s expectations, the black line a measure of the value you’re providing and the green line your client’s perception of that value. Notice the step down in the expectations line? That indicates expectations that have been successfully reduced. Perceived value is commonly below the actual delivered value, as the results are not always visible, not well explained or publicised. Your objective is to keep the gap between their expectation and the perceived value to a minimum.

In summary, consultancy’s who deliver to clients value, expectations and a scope of work should not be afraid of asking for fees that require execution and delivery on one’s time, if a man or woman works a day of time, they should be paid.

Is Telecommuting to be considered or banned?

telecommutingYahoo has banned its staff from “remote” working. After years of many predicting working from home as the future for everybody, why is it not the norm?

When a memo from human resources dropped into the inbox of Yahoo staff banning them from working from home it prompted anger from many of its recipients.

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” the memo said. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

The move to get staff back into the office is thought to have been driven by new chief executive Marissa Mayer, who herself returned to work weeks after giving birth.

Telecommuting may seem like a win-win situation for both employers and employees, especially in situations where an employee’s presence in the office is not required for the employee to effectively perform his or her job.

Employers may seize on the opportunity of allowing telecommuting to cut down on the amount of office space they need or to channel the time employees would otherwise spend commuting into business-productive work.

Employees may be attracted to telecommuting to cut commuting time, be available for child-care responsibilities, or continue working during a period of recuperation from illness or injury.

office_homeLost in employers’ decision-making processes are the inherent risks of encouraging or allowing telecommuting, including

  • the employer’s inability to accurately track employees’ hours of work,
  • the loss of confidentiality regarding business-related matters,
  • the potential for workers’ compensation claims for home injuries,
  • the inability of an employer to monitor employee behavior, particularly alcohol and substance abuse,
  • the difficulty of an employer meeting OSHA standards for in-home work, and
  • setting a precedent which may be difficult to control.

Last year, according to Mobile Work Exchange, 71% of the organisations that participated saw an increase in productivity during the week and 75% of participating individuals said they were able to accomplish more.

Marissa Mayer might take issue with those stats. Business Insider is reporting that the Yahoo chief used information from the company’s VPN records to show that people claiming to telecommute were not really working, and that is why Mayer shut the program down. Now, Best Buy is the latest struggling company to rein in workers. Recently, the electronics giant scaled back its well-known telecommuting program, saying the company needs more collaboration. Some employees can still work from home, but only with an okay from their direct manager.

There are signs that the number of people working from home is on the increase in the UK, according to the CBI. A total of 59% of employers who responded to a survey in 2011 were offering teleworking, up from 13% in 2006.

In the US, 24% of employed people report working from home at least some hours each week, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. But only 2.5% of the workforce (3.1 million people, not including the self employed or unpaid volunteers) consider home their primary place of work, says the Telework Research Network.

Clearly telecommuting is not something that can be implemented without oversight and thought. If you are considering allowing your employees to telecommute either full-time or part-time, here are 5 questions to ask yourself.

1. Am I the kind of manager that can judge performance on results only?

2. Can the work be, reasonably, done from home?

3. Are your employees already doing a considerable amount of work from home?

4. Do they have a desire to work from home?

5. Will you be able to meet all legal requirements?

Take a look at the situation in your office and decide if it’s a possibility. You can start slow allowing people to work one day a week from home and see how it works out. If it does not work, you can always cancel the policy. But, you may find out that it increases your productivity and your employee happiness!

It’s risky business to ignore gender inequality in the work place

arm wrestling man and womanWomen make up 50% of the workforce, have a higher education level than men, and are often the primary breadwinners in their families, yet end up underpaid and underrepresented in the workplace.

According to UNICEF, women do 66% of the world’s work, but only earn 10% of the world’s income, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) state; that if developed countries raised women employment rates to those of men they could increase their GDP by 12% by 2030. Other studies, such as a recent report from McKinsey & Co., say that having more women in the workplace can lead to higher productivity and efficiency.

So with all these statistics ‘ do companies need to have a strategic framework for gender diversity, with goals, targets, sponsors, and support networks, with clear leadership from the top?

Should Multinational companies focus on leadership training for women in their international offices and consider mentorship programs that allow women from the different offices to connect and network?

A good strategy is to think about gender initiatives as simply good business practice. If your company wanted to attract consumers from China, you would hire an expert who understands what Chinese consumers want and how they think and act. The same kind of strategy can be adopted for women customers. Since women make most of the financial decisions in households, not having a female perspective to attract women customers would just seem like bad business.

Train sponsors on the complexities of gender and leadership and make best practices more effective!

In a study led by the New York University psychologist Madeline Heilmann, participants evaluated the performance of a male and female employee who did or did not stay late to help colleagues prepare for an important meeting. For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favourably than a woman. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. Over and over, after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man that did not help.

So what’s the answer, sponsors, mentors?

gender_equalityGood sponsorship requires a set of skills and sensibilities that most companies’ star executives do not necessarily have. When you layer on top some of the complexities of sponsor relationships between senior men and junior women, you easily have a recipe for misunderstanding. The strategies and tactics that helped the men progress in their careers may not be appealing or even feasible for the women.

A classic case is the challenge of developing a credible leadership style in a context where most of the successful role models are male. One of the women in our research describes the problem like this: “My mentor advised me that I should pay more attention to my strategic influencing skills…but often he suggests I do things that totally contradict my personality.” The behavioral styles that are most valued in traditionally masculine cultures and most used as indicators of ‘potential’ are often unappealing or unnatural for high-potential women, whose sense of authenticity can feel violated by the tacit leadership requirements.

A further complexity is the famed “double bind” examined in Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli’s book Through the Labyrinth (Harvard Business Review Press, 2007) and in the 2007 Catalyst research report ‘The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership.’ Here’s the problem in short: The assertive, authoritative, dominant behaviors that people associate with leadership are frequently deemed less attractive in women. Male mentors who have never faced this dilemma themselves may be hard-pressed to provide useful advice. As one of our interview participants describes, even well-intended mentors have trouble helping women navigate the fine line between being ‘not aggressive enough’ or ‘lacking in presence’ and being ‘too aggressive’ or ‘too controlling.’

Male sponsors can be taught to recognize such gender-related dilemmas. Women in Sodexo’s reciprocal-mentoring program, for example, have been promoted at higher rates than other high potential women at the company, in part because the senior male mentors serve as career sponsors and (thanks to the upward mentoring) learn to manage their unconscious biases.

More sponsoring may lead to more and faster promotions for women, but it is not a magic bullet: There is still much to do to close the gap between men’s and women’s advancement. Some improvements such as supportive bosses and inclusive cultures are a lot harder to mandate than formal mentoring programs but essential if those programs are to have their intended effects. Clearly, however, the critical first step is to stop over mentoring and start accountable sponsoring for both sexes.​

We love what we do, do we?

baby-technologyHuman identity, the idea that defines each and every one of us, could be facing an unprecedented crisis.

It is a crisis that would threaten long-held notions of who we are, what we do and how we behave.

It goes right to the heart – or the head – of us all. This crisis could reshape how we interact with each other, alter what makes us happy, and change our capacity for reaching our full potential as individuals.

And it’s caused by one simple fact: the human brain, that most sensitive of organs, is under threat from the modern world.

Aphorisms usually have many origins and reincarnations, but the nature of do what you love’ confounds precise attribution. The Internet often attributes it to Confucius, locating it in a misty, orientalised past. Oprah Winfrey and other peddlers of positivity have included the notion in their repertoires for decades. Even the world of finance has gotten in on do what you love’: “If you love what you do, it’s not ‘work,’” as the co-CEO of the private equity firm Carlyle Group put it to CNBC.

The most important recent evangelist of do what you love, however, was the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. In his graduation speech to the Stanford University Class of 2005, Jobs recounted the creation of Apple and inserted this reflection:

You have got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

In these four sentences, the words “you” and “your” appear eight times. This focus on the individual is not surprising coming from Jobs, who cultivated a very specific image of himself as a worker: inspired, casual, passionate all states agreeable with ideal romantic love.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the do what you love’ credo, labour that is done out of motives or needs other than love which is, in fact, most labour is erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from our consciousness.

In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, do what you love’ may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?

We-love-what-we-doAlready, it’s pretty clear that the screen-based, two-dimensional world that so many teenagers – and a growing number of adults – choose to inhabit is producing changes in behaviour. Our attention spans are shorter, personal communication skills are reduced and there’s a marked reduction in the ability to think abstractly.

This technological-driven generation interpret the world through screen-shaped eyes. It’s almost as if something hasn’t really happened until it’s been posted on Facebook, Bebo or YouTube.

Add that to the huge amount of personal information now stored on the internet – births, marriages, telephone numbers, credit ratings, holiday pictures – and it’s sometimes difficult to know where the boundaries of our individuality actually lie. Only one thing is certain: those boundaries are weakening.

And they could weaken further still if, and when, neurochip technology becomes more widely available. These tiny devices will take advantage of the discovery that nerve cells and silicon chips can happily co-exist, allowing an interface between the electronic world and the human body. A professor recently suggested in an article that someone could be fitted with a cochlear implant (devices that convert sound waves into electronic impulses and enable the deaf to hear) and a skull-mounted micro- chip that converts brain waves into words (a prototype is under research).

Then, if both devices were connected to a wireless network, we really would have arrived at the point which science fiction writers have got excited about for years. Mind reading!

Fascinating thoughts​, but more down to today’s technology, which is already producing a marked shift in the way we think and behave, particularly among the young, which is far from do what we love’ and more about love as we please.

Are leaders born or made?

Are leaders born or made?What do you know about Generation Z? Born in the 1990s, they are beginning to enter the global workforce in greater numbers – and they mean business.

Gen Z arrived into an internet-ruled world, and grew up alongside the first phase of social media. While Generation Y – also known as millennials – were known for their entrepreneurialism, Gen Z are more entrepreneurial and independent than ever.

A large proportion of them want to start their own business, rather than be employees, and most are determined to turn their hobbies into full-time jobs.

In a world where everyone advertises their success on their social networks, they feel pressured to gain professional experience at a young age and they often hop between jobs.

The introduction of smartphones and tablets has made them the first digitally innate generation – and they regularly multitask across five screens. They are high in self-esteem, eager to network, and have an intense interest in new communication technologies.

The question is are you ready for generation Z leadership?

McKinsey & Company, the premier management consultancy firm in the country, were insisting that corporate success today requires a talented mindset. Just as there are naturals in sports, they maintained there are naturals in business.

As the saying goes, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Now a new study claims to have proven the theory that great leaders are all born – not made.

Research by a leading military academic claims to have put the debate on whether it is nature or nurture which creates greatness to bed after finding the most effective really are a breed apart, and have brains that are wired differently to most.

The discovery could revolutionise how organisations assess and develop leaders, with brain scans being used to identify those with the ‘leadership gene’ early and train them accordingly.

leadershipIt seems the most successful have more grey matter in places that control decision making and memory, giving them a vital edge when it comes to making the right call.

When Warren Bennis, interviewed great leaders, they all agreed leaders are made, not born, and made more by themselves than by any external means. Bennis concurred: ‘I believe that everyone, of whatever age and circumstance, is capable of self-transformation.’ Not that everyone will become a leader.

In the world we operate within globally we see managers and even CEO’s become bosses, not leaders. They wield power instead of transforming themselves, their workers, and their organisations.​

Management expert Professor Sean Hannah, of Wake Forest University in the United States, said: ‘Once we have confirmed how the brain works in these leaders, we can create an ‘expert’ profileThis profile can help us develop brain training methods to enhance brain functioning in leaders, such as the neurofeedback techniques that have been successfully used with elite athletes, concert musicians, and financial traders. The discovery could revolutionise how organisations assess and develop leaders, with brain scans being used to identify those with the ‘leadership gene.’ The study was published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Applied Psychology.

Leaders who had a more complex sense of their leadership skills and greater neurological complexity were found to be more adaptive and effective leaders in these scenarios.

Prof Hannah, a retired Colonel with 26 years of experience in the U.S. Army, said the results are a step toward finding out how effective and adaptable leaders not only think and act, but how their brains are wired to lead.

So are we ready for the new generation Z to breed their new profound strategy’s of how to manage billion dollar corporations from 5 screens or will leaders continue to be born or made?