Relationship Breakthroughs (No. 5): Confront problems or mistakes

A few years ago I interviewed a senior executive who talked about a particular lawyer he worked with. He told me:

“Harry’s firm made a mistake involving some legal work they were doing for us. It was a mistake that we would might not have noticed ourselves for a long time. However, as soon as he discovered it he came to me and disclosed it. It wasn’t easy to admit. He also set out a plan to fix it. That incident really built my trust in them. I know that they will always come to me immediately if there is a problem.”

Providing early warning to clients about real or potential problems–whether you created them or the client has made them (or is about to make them)–is more than just good practice. It’s absolutely the right thing to do. And it will distinguish you from other service providers who are too insecure and timid to confront them.This includes telling your client when you think his or her organization is making the wrong move. The executive vice president of HR for one of the largest banks in the world once told me about a particular consultant he worked with, saying:

“To give you an idea of how well he has come to know and appreciate our organization and culture: Last year, one of my departments was about to make a major policy decision. This consultant came to me and said, “I don’t think this decision is consistent with your culture–with who you are as a bank and the values you treasure.” It was a very important moment in our relationship. Not only did he have the guts to tell me, but he did it on the basis of understanding us even better than we understand ourselves!”

What decisions are your clients making that you should be confronting or questioning? What operational practices do they support that you believe are outdated or just wrong?

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