Take-Off and Landing: How to ensure client expectations are met
In this article, guest author Jack Kenward, an interim and consultant working predominantly in strategic and leadership roles in universities, outlines several solutions to ensure a smooth experience for both clients and candidates during interim or consultant projects.
“There are only two dangerous things about flying. Take-off and Landing. And that’s all we’ll be doing.”
Most assignments are longer than the 90 seconds flight from Westray to Papa Westray, the shortest scheduled airline flight in the world. Even so, the pilot’s welcome resonates with me in the context of interim and consultancy assignments: get the take-off right and the flight will be easy, land well and I can look forward to another flight.
The practicalities are straightforward enough. Is the interim or consultant briefed? And are staff in the organisation briefed? Are the introductory meetings and events set up? Is the technology in place? Is payroll sorted?
More important, and much more subtle, is the question of whether we have assured there are shared expectations of what the assignment is meant to do. Clarity is vital. This begins with initial divergent discussions around options, then carries through the convergent process of proposal and selection of interim or consultant. Put another way, one interim cannot do everything, so what are the client’s priorities? Or to extend our analogy, when we take-off, where are we heading and where do we want to land?
When I have these kinds of discussions, I talk through 'Six Cs':
- Continuity: to keep work moving until a new permanent arrives
- Change: to set things up or crack an issue before a permanent arrives
- Capacity: to shift work permanents cannot get through
- Capability: to provide, develop, and transfer skills permanents do not have
- Consultancy: to set out and evaluate options for permanents to implement
- Challenge: to say things and ask questions that permanents can't.
Where an assignment has been most successful, there has been absolute clarity about this up front. A smooth flight. Where there has been confusion, the assignment can be difficult. A bumpy ride.
And as a rule of thumb, no one assignment can do more than three of these, at best two, sometimes only one.
Why? One way to look at it is through Team Roles, as defined by Belbin. For example,
- To achieve challenge, I need to be a Shaper.
- To provide continuity, I need to be a Coordinator and Team Worker.
Not easy to combine. Though, other combinations do work well. For example, ‘Continuity’ with ‘Change’ works. Keeping most things moving (coordinator and team worker), while changing one or two (resource investigator and implementer), the continuity builds confidence, providing a foundation that enables change.
Clarity around the ‘Six Cs’ makes for a smooth flight. It also provides a soft landing. The questions become simple – did we fulfil the expectations? For example,
- Have we assured continuity so that work is moving when the new permanent arrives?
- Have we provided, developed, and transferred capability to permanents (so you no longer need an interim!)?
Of course, on longer assignments, client priorities can change. In my experience on one assignment, talking around the ‘Six Cs’ with the client enabled a smooth transition from my role developing capability, to a role delivered by another interim providing specific capacity – changing pilots in mid-air, and bringing excellent feedback for both of us.
On the best assignments, we can ourselves exceed client expectations – maybe engaged to provide continuity and develop capability, while being able to also identify and implement useful change. We can only exceed expectations at landing if we have had clarity of expectations at take-off.
Jack Kenward is an interim and consultant working mainly in strategic and leadership roles in universities.
If you would like to find out more about Jack’s work, or how we help to meet client and candidate expectations, please get in touch with Zoe Spalding.