The other day I found myself running a client workshop that went off the rails. I had lost the room. The participants had turned on me. Images of a lynch mob or the zombie apocalypse formed in the back of my mind.
It had been a long time since I’d had a meeting go south like that.
Afterwards, I reflected on where I had gone wrong.
I was prepared.
I had the right people in the room.
I had warmed the participants up to the topics that would be covered, and the main issues that would likely arise.
One the reasons that clients engage my services is to validate their thinking and approach. In this case, they had articulated a strategic goal that made sense, and a set of activities they believed would help them attain that goal.
I observed that one of the proposals, which would cost a great deal of money and require a large amount of time, was not required to achieve their goal.
Unfortunately the proponent of the proposal was very invested in it. His opinion carried a lot of weight in the client’s business, and the rest of the room were terrified of him.
There is an old consultancy maxim: you can give the best advice in the world, but you can’t make them listen. Such is life.
“you can give the best advice in the world, but you can’t make them listen”
A trip down memory lane
I went for a walk to blow off some steam.
I found myself aimlessly wandering, mentally questioning whether I would derive sufficient value from the investment of my time to justify the major headaches associated with aiding this particular client achieve this specific goal.
My circuitous route took me past many of my old stomping grounds, covering nearly 20 years of work history. The question of deriving lasting value from my time was nagging me as I did so.
Symbolically many of the buildings I had previously worked in over the years had been demolished and replaced. So too had many of the solutions I had successfully delivered:
- The insurer… who subsequently was acquired.
- The investment bank… who subsequently exited the business function using it.
- The regulator… who subsequently decided there was too much regulation.
- The pharma company… who subsequently learned the difference between useful and saleable.
- The telecoms provider… who subsequently went broke in the dotcom bust.
Many of those projects had been commissioned to replace something that already worked. In time many of my solutions inevitably suffered the same fate.
I was left questioning what lasting value I had derived from investing portions of my life in those projects? Sure I had traded my time for money to support my family, and learned some things that made me better at delivering the next one.
Is that the same thing as value? I’m not convinced that it is.
What could I tangibly point out to my future grandchildren and honestly say “I did that, that exists because of me”? I haven’t yet painted a masterpiece, or built a bridge, or cured a disease, or invented a time machine, or founded a country, or discovered a new continent.
I don’t care about fame and glory and kudos here. What I mean is during those quiet moments of introspection I would love to be able to sit back and feel content about a job well done that was both worth doing and delivered some tangible lasting value.
When you are in a hole, stop digging!
By the time my meandering had taken me back to the client site I had arrived at the answer. Helping this client was not going to provide me with that feeling of lasting value. If something isn’t taking you towards your goals then it is distracting you away from them.
“If something isn’t taking you towards your goals then it is distracting you away from them”
It was time to resume the retirement part of my semi-retired working pattern.
I subsequently discovered the approach proponent from the workshop was establishing a business selling the solution I challenged the need for. He intended to use the client’s business as a proving ground for his approach. The problem turned out to be a conflict of interest and misaligned goals.
- Think about what represents lasting value for the investment of your time.
- Validate how you currently allocate your time. Does it provide lasting value?
- If not, then do something about it!
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