The International Consulting Projects are the final chapter in a thrilling quest that was our MBA journey. For seven weeks, we worked with clients to address some of their pressing issues impacting their business. “We have a great product, so why doesn’t it sell as well as we want it to?” asked a medical devices company. “We have a new technology: how can we make a business out of it?” inquired a small glass manufacturer. “How can we work better and develop products like digital industry leaders?” wondered an enterprise software giant. And so on. We, the MBAs, had to put all our experience, past and newly acquired, to deliver tangible results to clients who expect nothing but excellence (or a lot more than that).
Regardless of industry or scope of the ICP, all projects were quests and tales of treasures, dragons, and heroes. Before you start suspecting that the author of these lines is Writing Under Influence, let me tell you that this metaphor is close to our MBA heart. The framework of a “hero, treasure and dragon” was introduced to us during the pre-MBA work by an IMD Professor Arnaud Chevalier. It is a useful way of effectively crystallizing and framing any problem. In the framework, the “treasure” is the desired outcome one seeks to achieve, and a “dragon” is the complication that stands in one’s way.
As we worked on our projects, our “dragons” took different shapes or forms. Sometimes it was the ambiguity and vast breadth of scope. Other times, it was technical complexity of the business challenge. And sometimes – like the laws of the genre would dictate – the biggest dragon in the room was the client.
Yet, a “difficult client” is nothing more than a complication. I have learned and observed behaviours that can help any team succeed in delivering great results to the most demanding clients out there:
A lot has been written about the importance of truly listening. One of the best “formulas” of this principle was coined by one of my favourite authors, Jordan B. Peterson, who said “assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” Clients can be blinded, misled or simply wrong. But the best way to bring value to them is to accept that they see something we, their consultants, don’t see.
- Make a client your ally
Surprises are risky at best. I observed that one of the most effective ways to have a happy client is to “pre-sell” your solutions. Engage client stakeholders, find out their perspective and, if appropriate, incorporate their views into the deliverable. That way, when you present your results, you will have an ally on the other side.
- Be confident
Clients may disagree with you and may be your harshest critics. But they value integrity. Firm opinions backed up by evidence. After all, most clients don’t pay consultants to hear their own music played back to them.
The projects are done. Results delivered. We are graduating. As of December 4, our MBA quest is over. But the heroes live on. The treasures abound. And there is definitely no shortage of bloody dragons. Here is to the next adventure!