Much of my work involves walking into companies that need to change - change to grow, or change to keep up with growth. One of the toughest situations is trying to do my job when the person in charge won't let my team do what we know is best.
How do you best navigate this situation? Here are some tactics that have worked for us over the years:
Go for "No" Three Times
My advice to my team is to push for what you think is best three times:
1st time, make a suggestion about your best move forward idea or approach. No need for elaborate justification or explanation. If the client says no, then -
2nd time - re-assert your suggested move forward idea or approach, providing reasons why you believe it is the best in the affirmative - the expected return or benefit, what's in it for them. Ask for reasons why they disagree.
3rd time - If you still believe your approach is best, then agree to their approach, but make sure they understand the pitfalls of making this choice - the detriment of choosing a less than ideal path.
An example of this - I was working with a company moderating a set of focus groups. For focus groups to be effective, you must follow a consistent set of questions and approach so the results can be compared to identify patterns during the analysis phase.
The primary decision maker wanted to change questions and flow between each focus group, and we were only doing four, so every change impacted 25% of the results.
I followed my rule of 3, cautioning her on the pitfalls of making those changes, but she stood firmly behind her decision. I ultimately had to report back the data to her and her superiors as separate, non-directional data, which lead to a failed product launch.
Recognize - and Acknowledge - It's a Bad Fit
I call it like I see it - early. If a client isn't going to follow my advice, especially if they think it's funny to disagree or their immediate reaction is to take the opposite stance, I know we are going to waste a lot of time and make very little progress.
You have been hired for a reason, don't be afraid to call it like you see it. Trust your gut and bring up potential points of disagreement early.
One way I protect against a bad fit is breaking projects into smaller chunks. A short term engagement that let's us try the relationship out before committing to a longer term retainer works well.
Present a United Front
It is important that your team keeps a united front. Hold regular meetings to discuss the good and the bad regarding your customers. Armed with this knowledge, and a safe place to discuss problems, your team is likely to present a disjointed message.
Be Prepared to Part Ways
A bad fit takes up more of your time and can impact your team's morale. It is far better to step away from a situation where the customer doesn't value what you bring to the table.
I keep a list of companies and individuals that provide complementary services. Often, the problem lies in a difference between what the customer thought they were buying or needed and what they really need that causes the friction.
The ability to transfer a client to another partner or company is a great way to keep the relationship strong.
Reflect On What Went Wrong
The best way to enter a successful engagement is to avoid signing a bad one in the first place.
Don't just move on from a bad project or experience - bring your team together and do a post mortem on what went right, what went wrong, what warning signs were in place during the sales and delivery of the project that you can look for moving forward.