We might turn you down. why who what when where and how
We are not persnickety. We do not like to tell someone no. Still, there are times "No" is the right response.

We find it easier to say no if we are clear that helping an organization succeed is the result we seek rather than getting an organization's money.

Because we focus on client success, Design Group International works hard to design context and process-based services focused on clear goals and deliverables. In order to do this successfully, developing a Consulting Agreement with a client must address basic questions:

  • Why
    • why are you looking for consulting services?
  • Who
    • who are we contracting with?
    • who will be making the decisions?
    • who supervises and is responsible for judgment calls?
    • who is tasked to follow through?
    • who needs to be consulted along the way?
  • What
    • what is specifically being requested and will be measured?
    • what is your criteria for success?
  •  When
    • when will the process take place?
    • when are the official or artificial deadlines?
  •  Where
    • where will these services and processes primarily take place?
  • How
    • how will we agree to proceed between now and any deadlines in order to  make these processes happen?

Many clients do not have certain answers for these basic questions. Perhaps this is why they are looking for consultative help. Working with the client to answer these questions is often the first way we help them find organizational clarity. By coming to a place of clarity, we are able to jointly design an Agreement that has an above reasonable chance for success. When there is a resistance on the client's part to find clarity at this basic level we say "No."  At that point the only service we can bring, and then only if the organizational system is ready for it, is outside intervention.  

Why would an organization or its leaders struggle to come to clarity about these basic questions? Usually, it is because the system is too broken to arrive at answers. For example:

  • Why
    • A person or group has rightly flagged some services that are needed, but higher ups find outside help threatening.
    • The organization is too balkanized to agree on a definition of the problem.
    • Previous bad experiences in addressing the issue leave the client unable to be honest about what the real problem is.
    • The organizational system only supports simple solutions and does not have the focus to address complex and multi-faceted ones.
  • Who
    • Role definitions are not in place, or not honored if they are in place.
    • The I don't have time so we can't do it syndrome is part of the organizational culture.
  • What
    • Key influencers view their personal criteria of success a win-lose scenario, or even a morality play, and they are either unwilling to submit their ideas for group critique, or they shut down the contributions of others.
    • The organization has a history of abandoning process. This breeds skepticism that success can actually happen, thus undermining any new process at its inception.
    • Passive-aggression is the modus operandi.
  • When
    • Unwillingness to commit to a time frame or to be accountable.
    • Accountability is punished rather than rewarded.
  • How
    • Leaders are forced to work beyond their competencies and without resources to acquire help.
    • Leadership change in the middle of a process often results in a new leader who refuses to participate in something they did not originate.
    • The organization and its leaders are not willing to adapt to unforeseen contingencies

When we walk the client through this discovery process we can write a solid Consulting Agreement, or these deficiences--if they exist--quickly come to light. If we find the client is unwilling to address them, we say "No." If we find they are, but do not have ready answers, we often suggest completing a process design with key players as our first step. That way, they are not on the hook for services that are likely to fail due to lack of clarity, and we begin helping them gain momentum in good group process so that they can tackle the presenting issues that led them to call us.

We offer this post in the spirit of helpfulness rather than salesmanship. Many organizational leaders would be helped if they worked with this simple declension they learned back in high school english class as a way to determine what it is they are tackling and how they will proceed. They will be helped not just because they are improving organizational clarity, but because they can more easily determine whether they have the skills in house or would do better to acquire consultative help. Armed with that clarity no one's time is wasted by saying "Yes" to what should have received a firm "No."

-Philip C. Bergey and Mark L. Vincent

No Doubt resized 600


Mark L. Vincent
Post by Mark L. Vincent
November 2, 2011
I walk alongside leaders, listening to understand their challenges, and helping them lead healthy organizations that flourish.