Why consultants need to say NO

Often a client is hiring a consultant to validate a decision they have already made. While in many cases the client is correct in their assessment of what might be broken in their organisation, they are probably not as well versed on the best way to reach a solution as the consultant likely is.

Consultants get hired because they have been exposed to multiple scenarios that occur in the same industry or vertical. They have met business challenges with different approaches and learned along the way what works, doesn’t work, and where the risks are. That knowledge is why businesses engage with consultants.

As consultants, we need to balance customer service and our desire to have repeat business with doing the right thing for our client. Sometimes that requires us to say NO.

Why no isn’t a bad word

As a client hearing no with the right logic and a contrary approach isn’t a bad thing as long as good judgment and reasoning are there. If an alternate solution is safer, faster, better for long-term growth, employee satisfaction, or fill in the blank, they will hear you and respond accordingly.

Actually client X, I see the correct approach as blah, blah, because of logic blah and blah. At alternate client Y we had success using this approach, because blah, and learned the following blah.

However, this means that we as consultants need to think before we speak. You cannot just blurt out the fact that the client’s approach is wrong; you must craft your response with evidence and examples. Once you have shared your reply, they should be at least considering your irrefutable proof. If they still refuse to follow your route, you have offered them a solid reason for how they should approach their challenges and that is where you are valuable.

When the client ignores your advice

Accept it. Move on, and think carefully if you want them as a client in the future. Logos on your client reel aren’t worth badly implemented programs so make sure that if you are going to do it their way, you can make the execution a success.

No fee or client logo is worth a black mark on your reputation.

4 rules of hiring: How to build a team (not just fill a desk)

Now Hiring
Now Hiring

Throughout my career, I have been lucky enough to build and create teams on a number of occasions. I have discovered that more often than not, it isn’t just about skills.  Great teams need a blend of the skills to do the job, fit to work together, personalities that are different and diverse, and so much more.

When I hire and recruit I see people that are about to be more than colleagues. I see the potential of chats over coffee, or some trash talking over late night deliverables. I see people who will not just meet the skills I require, but will truly complement those who already work there. I hire to put people with different talents and backgrounds together to work to enrich everyone’s experience. A friend of mine just started on the process of helping to build on an existing team so I thought I would share the advice I gave him with you.

My advice was simple: you want the place you and your team spend all this time away from partners, kids and friends to give them something. You want to create a workplace that is providing inspiration and motivation for your team to DO more and BE more, so when you are crafting that for a team take these four simple rules into account:

1.    Make a list:

Hiring people that have the right attitude is fantastic, but before you even meet them in person they need to have the right skills for your organization. Hiring is like dating, you need to know what you want from them before you have that cocktail. If you want someone who will run triathlons with you, you might not want to date the guy that plays hockey seven days a week.

2.    Translate the company culture in the interview process:

Making sure someone is right for your organization is YOUR job as the interviewer. You are responsible for making sure that your suit and tie culture isn’t crashed with someone in flip flops or that your philosophy of people and customers first isn’t overrun by someone chasing profit over quality.

Share the vision of the company and see that the candidate understands what you are trying to accomplish. If being passionate about customer service is a part of who you are make sure they know that before you put an offer in front of them.

3.    Bring it all together by mixing it up:

Once you have candidates that meet your skills criteria AND your corporate culture you need to look for how they are going to work with the other people on your team. I have learned through experience that hiring a bunch of people who are identical in terms of background, and skill sets creates a single opinion on a team.

You want to mix cultures, experience and personalities in order to create an ecosystem that works to improve what they need to deliver. These different people can challenge one another in a complimentary way and with that they will improve process, support one another through challenges and drive one another forward.

4.    Accept that you might make mistakes:

Sometimes it doesn’t work with someone or you just hired the wrong person.

They may be disruptive with your team, not capable to do your company’s version of a task, or just plain toxic. As hiring managers we have to accept that sometimes regardless of the screening and due diligence we put candidates through someone might not work out.

Accept it and move on. We can’t all be right every time.

We spend thousands of hours at work every year. THOUSANDS. A perfect forty hour work week with four weeks of vacation adds up to roughly 2000 hours in the office each year. Add in those late nights, early mornings, Sunday night flights and emergency calls while at brunch on Saturdays and the hours can really add up. So when you are recruiting do your best to make them count for yourself and your team.

The Complete Question

I have discovered the reason that I have so many emails that require one line responses.  In a corporate environment we are often rushing when we ask a question so we blast off the email to the relevant person who will know the “answer”.

Too often however we don’t fully craft the actual question, leaving us with pieces of information, as opposed to the complete answer that we actually seek.

If your question for example were about the success of a particular marketing vehicle you might say


How did X do in market?


It was a success

Question 2:

What sales did X vehicle drive?

Answer 2:


Question 3:

What was the response rate?

Answer 3:


Question 4:

How does that compare to other vehicles in market?

Answer 4:

It drove 20% more sales than Y vehicle.

At the end of this lengthy exchange you have slightly more information about the project, but still don’t feel armed to walk into a meeting with your executive teams to discuss the overall process.  You now might have four different files of “results” and you likely have someone sick of seeing your name

Instead a well crafted question might be phrased as such:


Can you give me a summary of the results on Y vehicle including

  • ·         Sales results  VS LY and VS other vehicles in market
  • ·         Response rate VS LY and VS other vehicles in market
  • ·         Any other metrics/feedback that may seem relevant

Win 1

By asking the question this way you are going to get a complete answer.  This method also leaves you with extra data in case someone asks a deeper question when you discuss the program.

Win 2

You are only sending and receiving one email which cleans up your in box and theirs, making you both more efficient.

Win 3
Asking for results this way tells the person that you are asking that you need all the details about a program which more often than not will cause them to offer even more than you are asking for.  By asking them to participate with an open ended request you are encouraging them to include items that they feel are relevant.

In the end a great answer is rarely given for a poorly formed question.

Before you write that next email

1)      Take a minute to think about what you really want to know about before you blast off the email to someone.

2)      Make a list of points that you need answers to-this gives the person a chance to ask for additional details on a particular point

3)      Re-read your request before you send it to make sure you haven’t missed anything and to ensure that it is easy to understand.

The Unpopular Opinion

Have you ever been in one of those meetings where everyone knows that the idea being presented is wrong/unprofitable/impossible/full of holes etc? This fill in the blank idea tends to be presented by someone in a power position and thus we are compelled to listen.

After the meeting everyone chats about how this is silly/a waste of time/broken and yet they have their notepads of takeaways and will go about building the business case for executing said imperfect project.

Have you ever wanted to stand up and ask where the idea came from or called out the holes in the theory?

Have you ever actually voiced the questions everyone is thinking and not saying out loud?

Asking the question makes you the face of an “unpopular” opinion. Personally I struggle to think that it is truly unpopular or contrary. More likely what you are voicing is just not the opinion of the top ranking individual presenting it.

Asking the hard questions is often looked at as a career limiting move.

So being the voice of reason may stunt your career path. Hmm. A bit wrong maybe?

This is where you see the difference between a great leader and a person with a great title.

Great leaders encourage having their ideas challenged. They encourage debate and conversations around new initiatives. This is not to say that you will not be asked to leave the room and proceed with building the business case, but you will be welcomed to speak and voice contrary opinions. Discussion about the gaps show us weaknesses that we can identify and correct before putting a product or service out to market and the best leaders know that.

The person with a great title will shut down the debate before it has begun. They are sure that the product or service is perfect and will save the quarter/make the world a better place/end war and they are not willing to have it challenged. So I challenge you to ask the hard questions.

Yes, you may be the guy that calls out the elephant in the room, but at least you didn’t pretend it wasn’t there.

You will also be the person that can leave the room with your notepad full of takeaways and in place of the gossiping you would have done, you can continue the debate.

If your boss is merely a Great Title, I don’t think the silly project is your issue. Trade in your “title holder” for a genuine leader and live a happier more satisfying life.

If you discover that you are the title, take this lesson as a step towards becoming a great leader.

Knowledge is power and can propel both you and your team forward.