An independent executive is continually juggling various client expectations, demands and doing the right thing for all stakeholders involved. This can be challenging and difficult to keep focused on why they were brought in to begin with and keeping everyone on the same page and the same track. Here are a few things to remember as you balance the priorities and make a lasting impact with your clients.
Leaving Your Expertise behind when dealing with client expectations
One of my favorite sayings is, “I worked myself out of a job.” This should be a top goal. Whether you are being brought in to bridge a gap, put some processes in place or lend your expertise to a situation, as much of what you do and how you do it should be left behind when you leave. The organization should have all the information they need to continue on as though you were still there.
Your communication, your toolkit, and your interactions should work in unison to support this goal. If you are providing your knowledge, get it in writing and explain as much of it as possible. Work one-on-one with individuals you know have the aptitude to thrive in the organization. Sometimes the team just needs the structure or the process to improve on their own when things start to go wrong. Walk them through the process, have them do as much of it on their own and then step back and support.
The engagement typically goes through a pattern of time involvement from the executive. Most of the time is spent at the beginning getting with the information gathering and planning. It will then start to even out during the execution phase and slow down for the executive as the assignment comes to a completion. Using a five day a week interim job as an example: The executive walks into a turnaround situation and is working five-plus days per week at the start. They find they are spending much of their time answering questions, assessing, planning and putting out fires. As the planning turns into execution and the training begins, there will be a point the executive can reduce the time to three days per week. This gives the internal team a couple of days without having the executive there to rely on. As they start to thrive, and the team begins to operate as the plans intended, the executive is there maybe one day a week to focus in on the remaining open items. The progress will not stop once the executive leaves. The team is equipped for the current stage of growth and the path that has been laid out for them.
Measuring, Tracking and Results – The Impact
Always be mindful of what is being accomplished? What projects are getting done, what results are being delivered? Rarely is it “Oh, they were fantastic they increased the morale of my company.” No, they use numbers. They increased my profitability by X, my revenue changed, my employee retention increased, my employee turnover went down Keep track, measure and put numbers to it.
These accomplishments and results can then be translated into case studies, your networking & referral communications, presentations, articles and the list goes on. People remember numbers, stories, and pictures far more easily than wordy explanations. Tell the story, paint the picture and don’t forget the numbers!
When the assignment starts to veer from the Statement of Work (SOW)
Since it was all documented to begin with and you are tracking your progress through updates and reporting, signs you are going off track become clear quickly. Some red flags are:
You are adding more to the “added activities” list than you are updating on the progress.
Most SOW items are in the yellow or red zone due to some internal issues, decision makers, available resources, etc.
We have mentioned this some times in this chapter. Why? It happens so often and so easily. From the client’s perspective, they are thrilled not just to have someone of your expertise working with them, but also someone to talk to and confide in. The more your collaborate with the client, the more they realize you can help in other areas as well behind the scope you were originally brought in for. You are happy to help in any way you can and keep saying, “Sure, I can do that for you.” There is nothing wrong with this other than that many times, the client expects this within original budget or that it can easily distract you from the original SOW. It not only raises client expectations but makes it difficult to manage and coordinate. As long as it is all in writing and you are dialoguing it with the client, you will be able to keep up with the client’s adjusting expectations. You either expand the SOW, get some focus on issue resolution or realize all of the added scopes can wait. Part of the role you end up playing is an adviser. Some of the reasons the SOW veers off track end up being intertwined with those outlined in the SOW itself. By addressing one, you can make progress on the others.
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