Consultant Thursdays: If You Want To Succeed, Do This

I ran across the post below on another blog, written by Jason Seiden. He was talking about Human Resources, but this really applies to anymore in business. We too frequently don’t know the end game of how our solutions fit into the greater scheme of a company, and we should care. Especially as a consultant, it should be our job to find out. Unless you’re building widgets (and even then), each of us plays a small part in how we add value to the greater good of the company.

Every time I start with a new company or a new contract, I walk around and ask questions about how people do their job. I don’t ask the veep’s — I usually ask people in the trenches what the customers want. They’ll give you the straight up, non-politicized answer, and sometimes, they’ll give you that one little nugget that makes all the difference in the world.

UX people especially aren’t a system administrator where all our job consists of is keeping things running; we’re right in the middle of the business process. We should care.

Just a thought.

Here’s the post.

I recently ripped my pals in HR a new one. Then my friend and colleague Laurie Ruettimann reminded me that  if you're going to criticize, you should have a solution ready to go.

She's right, so I posted a solution — a solution that applies not only to HR, but really to anybody with a job anywhere in the organization. It goes like this:

Find out how your company makes money.

Once a week for the next four weeks, take one of your lunch hours and go talk with people in various parts of your company who can explain to you, in plain English, exactly how raw materials become finished goods (or how ideas become service offerings), and how sales happen, from initial contact to cash in the bank.

Take them to lunch.

Buy lunch for both of you.

Tell them it's your way of compensating them for answering what you're certain will be an hour's worth of rudimentary questions, and for helping you out.

Some topics you might want to ask about:

  • Marketing decisions: who are your target markets? Why?
  • What's the plan moving forward?
  • How does the company generate prospecting lists?
  • How is sales organized?
  • Who builds sales demos?
  • Incentive programs for customers… and incentive programs for the salespeople… motivate what behaviors?
  • Are products discounted?
  • Who responds to RFPs? Who finds out about them?
  • Invoicing & collections: how quickly do your clients pay?
  • How tight are the daily delivery routes?
  • How well is the warehouse managed? What does it look like? How disciplined are the workers there?
  • What's the real impact of unionization on the floor workers?
  • Real estate: does your company own or lease? Why?
  • Who owns purchasing decisions?
  • Does the company hedge fuel purchases?
  • Why do some departments charge others for their work? That seems crazy!
  • Major client accounts: how much of the overall revenue do they represent?
  • What is the driving factor behind internal technology decisions?
  • What's the impact on IT costs if one person brings in their own laptop to work?
  • Are our HR policies driven to create a culture, protect against lawsuits, or both? And if "both," then which is the higher priority?
  • What's the CEO like, as a person? Is our company reflective of his/her personality?
  • Who has the data on our customers/clients purchasing habits? If I wanted to crunch it in order to look for trends, how could I get that data, and who would I give the results of my work to?
  • What does the company do with its cash? Does it have a huge checking account? Does it invest in 1-year bonds?
  • Who is on the Board of Directors, and why?
  • What are the company's loan obligations? What impact do those obligations have on the firm's ability to take risks or make investments?
  • What new strategic projects are planned for next year?
  • What strategic projects are being considered?
  • What does top management see as the number one obstacle to growth?
  • What do the rank and file see as the number one obstacle to growth?

See where this is going?

Build an understanding of the business. Armed with that knowledge, you'll  automatically become more effective at your job. And, you'll get seen as someone who cares.

(Now, if you lack the curiosity or authenticity to ask these questions and genuinely care about the answer, don't do this. Then you'll be seen as a fraud and people will resent you wasting their time.)

Something to  think about go do.

Problem solved.