“I am the client, you should do what I tell you to do!” I think all service providers have heard this before, and most have complied. The client is king, right? Wrong.
To be effective, the client-provider relationship is a partnership, not a relationship of deference.
Organizations know what they need and reach out to consultants when they do not have the expertise internally. The consultants bring an expertise. To be successful, we need each other. If my client asks for something unrealistic and I agree, we will both fail (and I will be made responsible). In order for everyone to be successful, consultants need to know how to push back and make the case for a different approach, if necessary. “If we do what you ask me to do, these could be the negative consequences. In my opinion, this is a alternative way we could do this to ensure we maximise chances of success.”
Every consultant knows this, but so many of them don’t do it. Why? Lack of consulting skills, lack of assertiveness, fear of offending the client,…? What about the impact of accepting anything and everything on the learners and on your reputation?
I remember discussing with a potential client recently who was asking us to train their middle managers in assertiveness, influencing skills and negotiation skills in a single day while making sure that the program was experiential and had practical skill building with batches of 25 participants each time. When we told them that this would not be possible as time was too short for any meaningul learning and pratice to happen, they told us that we were being ‘difficult’ and that they’d find someone else to do it. We expalned to them clearly our perspective and wished them all the best. They found a competitor who agreed readily to all their demands….and came back to us 3 months later.
Assertiveness is not imposing my needs, it is the ability to create the discussion in order to understand how we can meet everybody’s needs: the organization, the learners and ours. If hierarchy dictates the relationship between organizations and consultants, everyone stands to lose, especially the learners that waste their time in uneffective programs and lose faith in the relevance of training and development.