Balance and Handling a Client's Crisis


In the previous post I talked about balance as it relates to taking on too much work. We often do this without getting paid by failing to say no to clients who request our help with work that is clearly out of scope from their signed fixed price agreement. The easiest way to handle these requests is with an Additional Service Request that quantifies not just what the client wants us to do, but how much you will charge them to make it happen.

In this post I'd like to address something different. Many of you who get involved in consulting work, specifically strategic consulting work where you are helping clients with the longer-range business goals and strategic execution, will find that clients begin to come to you at all times and all hours with all manner of issues pertaining to the business. Clients have called me as I'm sure they have you from the dealership parking lot wondering whether it is better to lease or buy. But they also call me after dinner wanting to know how much to offer a hot new prospective higher. They call when they open the mail and get a large workmens comp. premium adjustment. They call when the general manager freaks out on an employee. They call when a large customer makes them nervous. And to be honest these calls feel good. I like knowing my client values me enough to call when important stuff happens. But after a while the dinner and date night interruptions get old.

As you enter these new types of relationships it is up to you to train your clients what to expect. Many will look at the large amount of money they are paying you on a monthly basis and falsely assume that it means you are at their beck and call 24x7. Absent any information or training to the contrary they make assumptions about what you are supposed to do, how often they are supposed to call, and how in the loop you need to be.

The point of strategic planning and disciplined execution is to not only achieve sound business growth, but also to reduce, and in many cases eliminate, the number of crises that demand immediate attention. We never want our role to degenerate into that of expert crisis manager. Instead when it comes to a crisis we are the ones who can help dissect the crisis after it has happened, understand why it happened, oversee the construction of processes, reporting and communication methods that keep it from happening in the future. In other words, if we do our job well the business owner should have fewer reasons to call us in the middle of dinner.

Part of your role in all of this is training the business owner how to handle the crisis that arrive at their desk, and getting them to see they should be just as intolerant of consistent crisis management drills as you are. As a practical point I have found that the one thing that keeps business owners stuck in the crisis loop is an unwillingness to let natural consequences run their course. In a valiant effort to save customers from undesirable consequences, business owners often come to the rescue and eliminate those consequences for everyone involved. And that works out just fine for everyone but the business owner. The customer is happy and the employee is ignorantly blissful of any negative repercussions. But the business owner is frustrated that no one can seem to get it right and the same issues keep coming back again and again.

Chapter 4 of my book is titled “Customers Come Second.” They have to if the business is really going to grow on the strength of employee performance. The business owner who sees his or her role as training and equipping employees will not let those employees escape negative consequences even if it means short-term pain for the customer. Over and over again I see employers rescue customers from negative consequences and at the same time severely handicapped their employees who never learn from their mistakes because those mistakes were never allowed to run their course. The cycle usually gets worse as team members learn that their role isn't to take final responsibility but to just go about their business with the expectation that someone else will catch anything that falls through the cracks.

So your role is to model for your business owner clients the fact that you cannot shield them from the short-term consequences of every bad decision. You are not a firefighter who comes to the rescue every time they pull the alarm. Rather you are someone who facilitates the building of a sound strategic plan, helps execute it with consistency, and addresses failures as part of that disciplined execution process. This is the whole reason we maintain an Issues Parking Lot and spend the majority of the weekly operations meeting prioritizing and solving these issues. Your clients should have 52 opportunities a year to take a good hard look at any systems or processes that need serious attention.

If you need a refresher on the weekly execution agenda review module 3, lesson 10: Execution Rhythm. In the next few weeks this particular lesson will undergo a major revamp as we update it to reflect Axiom’s Agenda 52 system. Current and past students will be invited to take part in the live taping of that session. If you are not a member of The Consulting CPA, but are interested in having more tools like these as part of a step-by-step program for adding strategic planning, execution, and coaching services to your existing tax and accounting practice please visit our Join page.