Uncovering the Issues

Uncovering the Issues

I paid the cab and hoped I'd landed at the right Starbucks. Matt sat in the corner focused on his iPad. He leaped right in, "I'm at Z-corp for six meetings a week. It's exhausting. Paolo only makes it to one a week. When he's not there, he's on the phone but the Z-corp guys ignore him."

"Paolo is perfect for Z-corp. He looks the part, speaks their language, fits their culture. But when he's not there he's simply off their radar."

Matt was wound up, "Actually this engagement is more about design than strategy. They need me more than they need him."

"Could you have landed it without Paolo, Matt?"

"No. Our last assignment set us up for this one. Z-corp's chairman was blown away. When something pleases the chairman everyone sees it as the key to success. Our Keynote is now legendary."

"No, Paolo is a must. Everyone knows the Paolo/Matt team. In fact, they don't use my firm name even though our contracts are under the Visual Strategy brand.

I think: "a little jealousy here." How to get Matt to understand the real problem. "Matt, you said: they need you more than Paolo. Why?"

"At the start it looked a lot like the last project. But this team is not well-organized - lots of politics - and their leader is just not engaged. So they go in circles."

"So, Matt, this project looked like the last one? How did it change? Does the client team have a clear goal?"

"Sure - look good to the big guy in the presentation next month."

"But what's the project goal?

"Right, there's another wrinkle. Z-corp has hired another consulting firm to gather content. Last time Paolo collected content from the field and from Z-corp archives and edited it."

"But, Matt, it sounds like Paolo still has to organize the content so you can build the Keynote. Is that right?"

"Yes"

"And Matt, could the politics be because the Z-corp team is confused about the goals? Have you talked to Paolo about this?"

"Not enough. When we're clicking it's the best. He's smart and so good at getting them on track. I trust him completely. I wish he was taking all the meetings so I could focus on other clients. But our deal is one meeting a week and Palo resists doing more. He will, but he pushes back."

"Matt, Does Palo know that you're at risk of losing this client? That the other consultant could leap on this if given a chance. It's not the money, is it?"

"No it's not the money and Palo has no other clients, he's just busy with family stuff. His wife is about to have her first baby. I wish Palo would take over the account. I'm behind on work for other clients. I'm afraid I'm letting them down. They were my first clients and I love the brand design and retail work more than this. I'm just sooo tired of Keynote."

"Okay, Matt, then let Z-corp go and do what you want to do."

"I can't. Huge cred working with Z-corp and they're more than half my revenue. Plus the mix of strategy and design is what I do best. I think it's the politics that's getting to me."

"Matt, you've got to talk to Paolo, even though you don't think you can persuade him. Your history is important to both of you. He would never do anything to hurt you. You need to get him to help you solve this problem."

We made a do list:

- Talk to Palo. What does he think? How can we make this work.

- Get some help. Find a couple of Keynote talents. Be clear that you're in startup mode. They'll have to do whatever is needed.

- Establish boundaries with Z-corp. Put on your best account manager persona. Manage the relationship.

Matt and I got refills and headed for the street.

Matt stopped and said, "that was great. I've got my list. I'm looking forward to talking with Palo. It all seems much clearer now. Thanks!"

The Real Issues

- Too many meetings. The project needs clarity: reaffirm and adjust the goals, establish steps for achieving them, review with the client, set specific criteria for future meetings.

- Matt is disconnected from Paolo. They need to reestablish their problem-solving relationship. They must talk about the issues, understand each others' point of view and determine how they want to go forward together, or not.

- Matt has difficulty asking clients and co-workers for what he needs to succeed. He needs coaching on how to handle difficult conversations.

Ted Leonhardt

filed under: Design Management
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