Over the past several years, it’s become apparent to us that the value we provide at Think Company is based not only in the world-class design work we deliver, but equally (if not more so) in the way we interact with our clients.
This’ll be obvious to most of you because you’re smart folks who get it. That’s why you’d also be surprised how often we find ourselves in situations where it’s clear that no previous design firms have engaged with our clients in anything resembling a consultative fashion. Stories of firms simply executing on a statement of work or delivering the rote set of deliverables are common. Simply doing something because this is the way we’ve always done it is par for the course.
That said, I don’t begrudge those approaches—doing the type of complex system design work we’ve come to specialize in is hard enough on its own. We’re frequently getting up to speed on new industries and corporate cultures while working to understand technical architecture and business rules on top of remaining current on modern design theory and practice.
The challenge is that the majority of our clients ask us to help them solve problems that may manifest themselves in designed solutions, but whose roots are far deeper. It’s for this reason we’ve had to focus more and more of our efforts on the consulting side of our work—building trusting relationships with our clients, making strong business arguments for proposed solutions, and generally taking a much more holistic approach to our work.
Our Consulting Principles are a primary outcome of this increased focus. We wrote these to answer the question, What makes Think Company a trusted advisor for our client? The principles themselves are structured in the form of questions that we want our employees to ask themselves as they interact with our clients.
- How am I properly empathizing with my client?
- Do I have a clear purpose? And do I know what my client’s purpose is?
- How am I being aware and mindful of what is going on and sharing the situation with others?
- How am I making conscious and informed decisions in context of the client and project?
- Does everyone I work with understand the drivers, rationales, and tactics of an engagement?
- How am I modeling accountability for my team and client?
- How is my attitude supportive of the discussions and relationships we want to encourage?
Once we had a draft of these principles we convened a session of all our project leads. Through a facilitated workshop, members of our Design, Project Management, and Technology departments took stock of the past months’ engagements through the lens of these principles.
What we found mostly validated our draft, but also provided some valuable refinement. Additionally, the exercise allowed us to generate a series of concrete examples of what contributes to (and against!) us becoming our clients’ trusted partners.
Coming out of this overall exercise we now have a set of principles to guide our client relationships for both veteran and new team members. Additionally, we plan to conduct these Leads Summits annually to reflect on what’s working (or not) in one of the most important—and intangible—aspects of our work.
Have you considered establishing similar guidelines for the way you interact with clients beyond the basics of executing against deliverables? Even in small or well-functioning organizations, having them spelled out in black and white can provide a helpful touchstone when questions arise or the going gets tough.