Relationships or Results?
During a recent Graphic Communications Leadership Institute workshop, we worked on a case study titled “A Consultant’s Comeuppance.” The situation centers around a consulting organization and one of their long-term clients in the banking industry.
The case details the close relationship between the firm’s partner and the representative from their client organization. This “relationship” had evolved over the years to become more like a close friendship; baseball games, reference letters and internships for their kids, and other “favors” for the client. In return, an increasing amount of consulting projects wrapped in high-level retainers were bestowed upon the firm. All was good, until it wasn’t.
Seems the client went through a rough patch. The rapidly changing business environment in the banking industry resulted in several years of poor financial performance. The CEO was shown the door and was replaced by a “hard-headed businessperson” intent on getting the bank’s financial house in order. This process would begin with a detailed cost/benefit analysis of their consulting relationships. Suddenly, and for the first time in their years-long relationship, the firm would need to justify their multi-million-dollar fees.
Panic set in. The firm gathered their senior team to brainstorm ways to keep this important account. A number of ideas were put on the table. No tactics were dismissed. Five different approaches were finalized and became the subject of debate. Each had merit in its own way. The discussion of the case centered on which of these five options was the best approach and why.
As discussion of the case ensued, it became apparent there was a glaring omission in the firm’s approach. In all their brainstorming, they were focused on one objective: retaining an important account. Certainly understandable. But these discussions were framed around their needs rather than the needs of the client. What if they began their deliberations with the question of what the client needs now? What are the priorities of the new CEO (reduce expenses, focus on the best market opportunities, etc.) which were clearly detailed in the case?
A couple of takeaways. This particular case serves as a reminder of how we can often place our needs first, rather than those of the customer. It also underscores the danger of thinking of a client as “an annuity” to the point of taking the relationship for granted.
Case studies are an excellent way to help your management team discuss real world problems in a “safe-harbor” environment. Because these are not “real” companies, it’s easy to critique, question and recommend solutions. Many of the challenges presented in case studies may reflect those faced by your organization. Try it over lunch or as an ice breaker before a senior team offsite and see what happens.
For more information on ways to enhance organizational learning, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.