Taking One’s Own Advice

By: Sumeet Goel

We in the consulting world pride ourselves on giving good advice, hoping that our clients will heed it. If they don’t, shame on them. And if we ourselves don’t listen? Shame on us.

Guilty as charged.

Back in September I wrote a post about “Communications 101”, in which I campaigned for a return to face-to-face communications in lieu of emails or texts.

Fast forward just a few weeks later and I found myself ignoring the very tenets proposed in my post.

Some background first. One of our HPA consultants approached me for advice on a client project. The scope of the project had significantly changed and the client team was short-staffed at the more experienced levels – as such the consultant had assumed a greater role and responsibilities than originally agreed upon.  Phase 1 of the project was finishing and it was clear the client still needed him to stay on for Phase 2.

However, the consultant’s frustration with the situation was such that the entire project plan needed significant modification and that I had to approach the client as quickly as possible. The situation clearly required me to, at the very least, pick up the phone and more likely, to go see the client in person (easy enough to do as they are based in Southern California).

So what did I do? I wrote an email.

I laid out the logic behind my suggested changes to our original agreement, attempting to be completely transparent across all fronts.

The client responded with a curt and angry email.

I was shocked – but shouldn’t have been. While my email was well intentioned, the medium I chose was completely wrong.

The right approach – and one that “September Sumeet” would have clearly promoted – was to go see the client in person. Look them in the eyes. Explain the situation and work together to find a solution. Their answer might still have been no, but it definitely wouldn’t have been one that caused our client to feel disappointed.

The email exchange only created tension where there previously had been none. And while I’m confident we will get back on track with this client over time, the loss in client trust was disheartening to say the least – not to mention the lost time, effort and resources necessary to repair this damage.

All of this could have been avoided had I just listened to my own advice: Use email to set up a meeting rather than to resolve an issue.