One of the most requested topics for the Rethinking Professional Services webinar has been that of Consultant Skills Development. Today's blog is going to concentrate on one element of that topic...Consultant Engagement.
"CONSULTANT" ENGAGEMENT IS NOT "EMPLOYEE" ENGAGEMENT
If we take the same approach to consultant engagement as we do employee engagement, then we will be in trouble.
Unlike any other group within an organization, consultants spends 75% of their time working to help other companies.
Not only are they completely engaged with those companies (rather than ours) we are constantly pushing them to do more of it so that they can generate the revenue and/or results we need for our company to be successful.
This creates unique challenges when trying to engage them which means that our approach to consultant engagement needs to differ from that of regular employees.
Here are four elements of the engagement approach that must be in place to effectively engage consultants.
1. A CONSULTING CULTURE
The ability for a professional services team to thrive within a company relies heavily on whether or not that company's existing culture acknowledges the professional services team's core objective and challenges. We talked in the last blog about the clash that we sometimes can unwittingly create a sales-oriented culture that lauds the sales team, while shunning the team trying to complete the process of customer acquisition. The net-effect, is consultant disengagement. To overcome this the company needs to incorporate acknowledgement of how the services team's triumphs over these challenges impacts our company's success. while we showed long list in the webinar, here is a short list of those acknowledgements.
- Project life is difficult & taxing and we are supportive of the team's endeavors
- Escalations are just a part of the job of leading customers to outcomes
- We don't take the side of a complaining customers, simply because they are escalating.
- Getting the customer live is more important than customer satisfaction because if we don't get them live, there will be no customer satisfaction!
- We are thankful for every customer we get live because now, we can call them a customer
The second part of a great consulting culture is that these elements need to be acknowledged by the people that count. That means people other than the head of services. Consultants are in battle every day to get customer projects finished and when the CEO or other leaders of the company don't show true appreciation for the effort that takes, disengagement starts. Too often, I see the head of professional services act as the defender of the delivery team while the rest of the organization attacks it.
That's like the brain attacking the stomach because it doesn't like the way it's digesting the food (that the brain decided to consume)!
Regardless of the professional services team's results, the culture needs to recognize and celebrate the difficulty in the what was achieved and inspire the group to be better at what it does. It's only when someone senior outside of the services team makes those statements do they increase consultant engagement.
2. REGULAR REMOVAL OF CULTURE KILLERS
Something that I've learned the hard way is that you must remove people who are killing your culture as soon as humanly possible otherwise it continues to harm your chances of success. Being a team-based activity, consultant-engagement can be dramatically impaired by allowing people who are destroying the culture to remain.
I liken company culture to building a theme park. You set out with a specific idea about the kinds of rides you want to offer because you want it to be appealing to certain people. You aren't building it for everyone because if your theme park is going to help you achieve success then you want those who attend it to REALLY love it. You want them coming back and you want them telling their friends that this is the best theme park on the planet.
The same goes for company culture. From a diversity perspective, it makes no difference where these people come from, what background they have as long as they are aligned with our mission and the way in which we are going to make it happen. Anyone destroying that is a weight that makes achieving our goals all the more difficult.
As a result you must purge them regularly. One bad apple will, eventually, create another.
Given time, you will eventually have a culture so rife with bad apples that you are planning around them in order to achieve anything at all.
If that happens, then they aren't fulfilling their employment obligations and they aren't accretive to your company's ability to be successful, so they need to be jettisoned. Those who remain will thank you for it and increase their level of engagement.
3. CAREER DEVELOPMENT
Career Development for professional services employees is a unique challenge because there is little to no blocks of hours that can be dedicated to training without it impacting their primary objective of generating revenue or customer results. There are two views of this challenge that need to crystalized, for both the consultant and the employer.
First, the employer must recognize that any training provided to the consultant team must be easily digestible in small bite sized chunks.
Think of skills development as a plate of sandwiches. Each sandwich is a new skill. Consultants don't have time to stop and eat a whole Skills Sandwich! It needs to be broken into pieces so they can consume it while also achieving utilization targets.
Realizing this provides the insight that maybe everything in the skills development lifecycle must be minimal impact. This means prioritizing all learning and certification activities to be either short videos, field-based learning activities, short teleconferences or books and articles that can be completed whenever the time allows. Our Project Sherpa Consultant Certification program is developed entirely around this idea in order to maximize consultant engagement.
Secondly, the consultant must recognize that career development is a high priority and at some point, must be more important than customer work. We teach the use of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix during our classes so that people understand that importance and urgency work together to create priority. In other words, that training that you've been putting off for months needs to get to the top of the queue at some point, otherwise there will be a consequence. That consequence, is disengagement.
As an original non-believer, I thought the idea of deliberately going out of my way to create consistent recognition was a little trite. My employees and those that I care about at work have proven me wrong and now I'm a believer. It's not only worth every second of the investment you put into it, if you learn to do it right, it is an investment that never stops giving back.
Recognition, if done correctly, is the basis for the creation of corporate behavior change within your company.
Building a successful professional services team requires the formation of a team that behaves consistently in front of the customer.
You will never be able to hire that consistency because the pool from which we hire has no consistency. As a result, you need to find a way to promote a change in behavior towards the expected norm. That's the role of recognition.
When recognition is provided within close proximity to the behavior itself, it affects the habit loop. It makes that person feel good about that specific behavior and as a result, there is an incentive to do it again. Unfortunately, most recognition within professional services is given at the end of a project. This has almost no behavior change value other than rewarding the projects final behaviors. This is typically, pulling an all-nighter to get the project over the line which is the kind of behavior we are trying to avoid needing.
By using recognition effectively, we can engage consultants in the behaviors we want them to exhibit in front of customers. This results in a greater level of engagement and they become the examples of the culture we are trying to create. There are plenty of nay-sayers for recognition and I acknowledge that there is the potential for some negative responses, however the very real and significant benefits this approach produces far outweighs any of the negatives identified so I recommend that all teams make use of it until we have something better.
As I mentioned at the beginning, engaging consultants is a unique endeavor. They are in a position that requires a specific approach unlike that of other employees. If we attack the problem the same way we will fail because they are in a different employment environment than every other group within the company. Do you agree? It's ok if you don't. Let us know.