These are the worst things I’ve seen from both sides of the fence over the past 26 years. If you are a buyer of professional services – caveat emptor! If you are selling professional services, do everyone a favour and steer clear of this kind of behaviour.
1. Playing the day rate game (DRG) – price knocked down? Pad out the number of days or substitute cheaper staff. Many buyers of professional services want to know the price per day for the service they are buying. The more experienced buyers will watch a consultant or coach at work and come to a judgement about the price they should be paying per day for that person. The game comes into play because the supplier wants to preserve margin and the customer wants to reduce the price.
Both sides should really be discussing value. Without an understanding of the value of the end result, all that happens is a relentless focus on cost. Why not try a different question? How will this coaching assignment help my business grow and what impact should I expect?
If you focus on value you are more likely to get it.
2. Sell with the A team, deliver with the B team. Make sure you know who is actually going to do the work. A consequence of the DRG. The most impressive people are used to deliver the proposal to senior management and then a bunch of second-raters turn up for the assignment. Making assumptions here can kill the prospect of a great result. Evaluate all the people individually and make sure the names of the ones you want are in the engagement contract.
3. Revolving door syndrome. Another consequence of the DRG. You’ve got the team. The assignment is going well. Now their star player is needed on another assignment that’s in trouble. Your team members get frustrated because they are always bringing new people up to speed and as soon as they’ve done that the person leaves. Make sure you have the terms and conditions that suit you in your engagement contract.
4. Insensitivity to appropriate client norms – the partner turns up and spends the day braying at his mobile phone in your offices. He gets hooked up to your wireless network, but solely for the purpose of his own emails which are nothing to do with the your assignment. He also has his own meetings, with the guys that are supposed to be working for you, in your meetings rooms.
5. Arrive late on Monday, leave early on Friday. Whatever are you paying for? Make sure it is clear precisely what kind of engagement you are paying for. Particularly for coaching, much can be done by skype video phone. It is a valuable time saver for both parties.
6. It worked ok last time. Do they really know, from first principles, what they are doing or will you find out that they don’t? Particularly for those assignments with a technical element, make sure you are not your supplier’s guinea pig. Invest time with their other clients to ensure that you really understand your potential supplier’s capabilities.
7. Taking all the credit. Bet your staff love this habit! Make sure you get your regular briefings from your own staff. Let them get the credit. It will build their confidence and it will improve team spirit. If your advisors want to take all the credit, there is something wrong. Do you want to be dependent on them or do you want your own team to learn and develop?
8. Selling the next assignment before you’ve had results from the first one. It easy to tell who is under pressure to bring in more business! Advisors are often under pressure to bring in more business and you are their easiest target. When their head of sector wants meetings with you, make sure you know what it is about in advance and let them know what is and is not a priority for you.
9. Blame the client. They don’t know what they’re doing, so guess who ‘s fault it is – yours! At this point, there is only one mistake you have made and that was buying from these guys. You obviously did not do your homework.
10. The only thing they do on time is present their invoice. Classy! Time to look at your engagement contract again. What exactly have you bought? – Probably a number of days with a woolly deliverable.
11. Playing politics in the client organisation. If your staff all hate them, this might just be the reason. I knew a coach who had a very good relationship with the chairman of the client – introduced by a mutual friend – but who was hated by everyone else. He could not help himself but meddle in everyone’s relationships and talk about people behind their backs. Needless to say, his assignment didn’t last long.
When you are engaging outsiders to help you, making sure you know how it can go wrong is half the battle towards getting the result you want. Notice how most of the failure modes apply much more to consulting rather than coaching. Coaching not only benefits people at all levels, client engagement is a lot simpler and cheaper than hiring consultants to do it for you, with all the risks that the consulting approach brings.