Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Consulting assignment life cycle 9: working with your manager and progress reports

Posted in consulting, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 1, 2012

This is my ninth installment on consulting and the consulting assignment life cycle (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 225-232 for parts 1-8.) So far I have discussed consulting per se and finding clients in this series, and I have started the process of outlining and discussing the consulting assignment. I turn in this installment to discuss the all-important topic of communications – you as a consultant communicating with the people you are working with, and starting with your manager. This, I stress has to be effective two-way communications and my goal in this posting is to outline some of the key issues that go into making this flow of information effective and for all parties concerned.

There are a number of ways to approaching this topic but one comes immediately to mind for me as effectively identifying and addressing the key issues. I am going to start with the What of this communication process, and both ways in the manager/consultant collaboration. I am then going to turn to issues of Where and How.

The basic rule of What is very simple. Both the consultant and the manager they report to have to be able to share necessary information for keeping the assignment on track.

• This can mean sharing word of potential problems and complications, where for example the consultant informs their manager that a resource they need now, according to schedule and planning is not available yet. This can mean the manager telling their consultant of an issue that would call for re-planning or other course corrections.
• This, I add can also mean sharing word and in either direction as to unexpected opportunity. “The X that you are going to need is going to be available tomorrow so let’s plan on your taking care of the tasks that would call for it early while we have this window of opportunity.”
• This always means progress reports from the consultant and feedback from the manager.
• And some of this would take place in separate meetings and some might very well take place in team meetings where everyone involved in a project or program, in-house or consultant is kept up to date on how the overall effort and its component work flows are going.

And with that last bullet point I move on to the Where and How:

• As a consultant, you work for your employer and within their systems so you should expect to have to accommodate their needs and preferences as to Where and How.
• On a very basic level this means really listening to your manager and the others you work with, in learning how much detail they want on what, and what formats they find easiest to assimilate and use.
• Do they want detailed reports or just the highlights, and if the later, what types of detail do they most need?
• How often do they need routine progress reports?
• How do they want exceptions and problems brought to their attention and with what types of detail, so as to make your reports actionable on their part without their having to work their way through extraneous details first?
• And most importantly, this should be all about your manager’s communications preferences and not yours. You, as a consultant, are hired to make life easier for your manager and to take some important set of tasks off of their desk so they do not have to do it or deal with the consequences of its not being done. Effective communications that meet the needs and preferences of your manager constitute a core component to making that work.

And this brings me specifically to Where and I could also add When here, and I start that with a point that can get overlooked, and certainly as far as general planning is concerned: confidentiality.

• There are two basic reasons why a manager would want to meet with you as a consultant separately from the team you work with, that they also manage.
• One is a matter of simplicity and not forcing everyone else to waste their time hearing about and dealing with types and levels of detail that would simply take from their time and attention and without benefit.
• The other is that some of the issues and details you need to discuss with your manager might involve confidential or proprietary information. At least in my experience, this most usually means preliminary planning and talking through ideas and approaches that might or might not work and confidentiality can be important to limit if not prevent confusion. But bottom line, even when a request for a separate meeting comes from the consultant, it is the business and the manager reported to that set the standard as to what can and cannot be discussed and shared openly, and what should be discussed and decided upon behind closed doors with more limited participation.
• And I add, of course, that some of the most important of this might be discussed with you as the consultant out of the room and with your being told of decisions made elsewhere in the organization that would shape and affect what you do, when you do it and how.

And I finish this posting by driving home the key take-home lessons that I would share here:

• Effective communications start with how your communicate with your manager, and radiate out from there as you work with and communicate with other stakeholders and co-workers, and with suppliers, channel and supply chain partners, other consultants and third party providers, customers and others you would deal with as part of your job there.
• As a consultant, you follow the lead of the people you are working with as far as communications style is concerned, and follow the approaches for What, Where, How and When that meet their needs where possible – and with communications needs and preferences of your manager taking precedent except where they indicate otherwise when they are in the loop.
• And finally, as your own due diligence you have to look for details and information that the people you are working with would need. And it is your responsibility to find the best way to convey that information to them and in ways that would work for them.

I am going to turn to the issues of corporate culture in my next series installment, and working in that context as an effective consultant. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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