Congratulations! You just landed a new client. After celebrating the win, the real work begins and it usually begins with a kickoff meeting. The kickoff meeting sets the tone for the relationship. Go in with an attitude that whatever the client wants, regardless of scope or reason, will be accommodated without evaluation and your staff will quickly come to resent both you and that client, who will definitely take advantage of the extra service for which they don’t pay. It’s a good deal on their part. Go in with an attitude that the client owes you a favor for accepting their business and the client will move to a more appreciative vendor or consultant.
Writing for HubSpot, Jami Oetting comments that the kickoff meeting serves as your primary benchmark for client onboarding. It’s a succinct term that encompasses the conversation in which the major stakeholders discuss the scope of work and get everyone involved on the same page. The conversation should help you “create a marketing plan, define a list of priorities, and reaffirm the goals uncovered and agreed to during the sales process.”
At the end of the meeting, every attendee should leave the room knowing what the client wants to accomplish. The how can be adjusted. The what determines how much your staff can do and how much you’ll need to outsource. The what determines the scope of the project and whether that scope exceeds the limitations of the contract for service. Understand this at the outset or you’ll set your business up for failure and your client for disappointment.
Tripp Braden, writing for the Market Leadership Journal, states that getting to know what your client really wants to accomplish means asking pertinent, probing questions. Listen for comprehension. Do not listen to reply. Why does the client want to accomplish a particular goal? What will the impact be on the client’s life and business? Does the client’s agenda support his or her personal or professional mission and/or vision? Braden says that when a vendor supports the client’s agenda, the client is more likely to accord that vendor “expert status” and inquire about other areas of expertise that the vendor offers. In short, these explorations can set your business up for additional work.
Goals, says Oetting, should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timebound. This means that the contract for service may not accommodate everything the client wants to do, nor will it run forever. Identification of challenges obstructing fulfillment of the client’s agenda may affect the project scope and deadline. In such a scenario, the client and vendor must then negotiate adjustment of the agenda and the scope of service.
Once the team understands the agenda, the work begins to analyze the tasks necessary to accomplish the goals in order to determine to process for achievement.
The Heggen Group specializes in client onboarding. We help our clients understand their clients’ needs and establish the processes that integrate client projects into the existing workload. We create feasible processes that guide achievement.
A successful team of workers operates much like a herd. Any expert in herd livestock behavior–horses, cattle, goats, llamas–will verify that every herd has a pecking order. Introduction of a new animal to the herd or removal of an animal from the herd immediately results in a sometimes violent adjustment of herd dynamics until all the animals understand their placement within the modified herd.
Consider the famous Budweiser hitch. A team of eight horses works well because each horse is carefully positioned according to its strength and personality. The wheeler–those horses closest to the wagon–shoulder the heaviest load. They’re the largest and strongest horses on the hitch, but they’re not the most dominant. They limit the maximum safe load, because only they can hold the weight of the load when going downhill. Wheelers also steer the vehicle. The leaders–the horses at the front of the team–are the dominant animals. Although they share the effort of pulling the load, they don’t actually turn the vehicle. They lead the team. The team trusts and follows them, both in the hitch and in the herd. If the leaders spook, the rest of the team will, too.
While the cooperation of human beings within a project team or program handles significantly more complex tasks than pulling a heavy wagon, the analogy remains apt. Just as each animal on the hitch knows its job, every employee on your team should know his or her job.
The same holds true for business. A well-written process defines who does what and when. Howard Shore’s article “The Importance of Defining Employee Roles” states that the clarity a process brings to producing the work leads to more collaboration success and less duplication of roles and defending of turf. Tammy Erickson, writing for the Harvard Business Review, agrees. Collaboration improves when the people on the team understand their roles, because that understanding leads to focusing on the task.
Definition goes beyond simply stating, “You do this.” The process should also determine who does that when. A task performed at the wrong time can lead to inaccurate conclusions, budget overruns, completion delays, team member frustration, and other problems. The determination of what must be done leads to identification of who will do it. Match the task to be performed to the skills and interests of the person(s) assigned to performing it. The employee who’s a whiz at crunching numbers probably won’t be the one you want to assign to writing marketing materials, because that person’s competencies don’t lean in that direction.
The “why” matters, too, because you’re relying on people, not machines or livestock. Without understanding the reason for each step in the process or even the reason for the project or program in the first place, team members may avoid certain steps altogether that result in poorly done, incomplete projects. People need to know why something is necessary in order to give it their full support; machines and horses don’t.
Once the what and when have been determined, the effective manager then determines the metrics for successful accomplishment. Understand the factors that will affect success and encourage the behaviors needed for a positive outcome. The measurements used to determine success will inform employees that they have accomplished (or not) the tasks set to them.
A manager shouldn’t waste time worrying about how something will be done. That’s why he or she has a team of competent people to perform the work. Trust them to know how to do the tasks assigned to them. Once team members what to do, when to do it, and why, the manager must step out of the way to let them do it. At the same time, the manager must ensure that not only does he or she not pose a bottleneck, but that no one else on the team does either. Therein lies accountability.
David Copperfield. Sigfried and Roy. Penn and Teller. Chris Angel. These are some of the greatest magicians of our time and the outstanding success of their magic depends upon prep work. If the scene isn’t set, the props not double- and triple-checked, the prestidigitation not diligently practiced, then the whole illusion falls apart. Business process re-engineering (BPR), enterprise resource planning (ERP), new business onboarding, post-merger architecture, and enterprise transformation also require meticulous prep work for success, because failed implementation carries dire consequences for business. The preparatory stages of any company’s initiatives, large or small, follow the same general guidelines.
1. Define the value proposition. This is an if-then statement in which I identify the problem to be solved and the expected outcome. Determining a concise and accurate definition takes work, including conducting research for background information to support the value proposition. This entails discussion of specific, desired result of the project. The description of the desired outcome which may lead to identification of the problem to be solved. The information gathered during this phase will also assist in determining the factors that require resolution to achieve the desired outcome. Now, you’re ready to talk strategy on how to resolve the problems affecting your business.
2. Define the execution framework. You’ve the “what” to be solved. Now it’s time to determine the who, when, and how. In this stage, team roles and expectations are determined and described so that all participants understand the expectations placed upon them and are capable of meeting them. This phase also serves as the point during which man hours and resources are mapped out so team members can budget their time and effort accordingly. Above all, be sure to establish a communication plan that not only specifies when and how often updates are due, but which tools are to be used. If the team is expecting an email update and the team member who’s responsible for a particular update doesn’t do so unless he’s speaking face-to-face with team members at a meeting, then frustration will inevitably ensue.
3. Map the tactics. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. In this phase, the team will discuss and determine the tactical steps and basic timing to meet the value proposition and project goals. This phase includes determination of what’s in the project scope–and what’s not–identifying key constraints that could impact the success of the project, and specification of the critical success factors, which include understanding of the risks, the mitigation tasks that may be necessary, and the assumptions going into the project that may be proved inaccurate. Once the scope has been defined, the consultant can then determine his or her fee. Now the team can proceed.
Each phase of preparation seeks to ensure that team members possess a common understanding of goals, responsibilities, and actions. In that manner, businesses can reduce risk and optimize effort because all members of the team are headed in the same direction and working toward the same goals without gaps in understanding, missed benchmarks, and lost opportunities. A project launched from this common understanding has a greater chance for on-time and on budget completion and optimal implementation.
Unless you really want to lose money and aggravate your staff, a process is necessary to devise the plan that will improve your business. The Heggen Group guides the gathering of information, analyzes that information, and leads teams to develop effective and feasible plans for effective business resource management.