Yearly Archives: 2014


Winning Your Client’s Loyalty

A colleague, who was 15 years my senior, provided me with the best client service advice I ever received. I always admired the quality of his business relationships. Although his clients seemed to have a tendency to be demanding, they were also his personal friends who were loyal and negotiated winning contracts. One day, I asked him how he did it, and the answer stuck with me.

His advice: Always work to get your client promoted to a higher job level. Study what their bosses’ or organization’s values are and then help your client deliver them. Initially, don’t divulge this goal to your clients, but once successful progress has been achieved, let them know your objective. I have never had a client say; “Oh no, don’t do that!”

At first glance, one might say this concept is no different than delivering the scope of work on time, on budget and with the best quality. But these goals should be a “given,” whereas this promotion theory goes much farther. Over the years, I’ve found my clients could get credit by solving issues or enhancing an idea outside the scope of work. Finding the necessary characteristics to your client’s success takes work. You cannot initially be so direct as to ask, but by building a relationship and studying the way others attained promotion, you can better understand the values of the individuals within the organization who are responsible for those promotions.

For example, one project I worked on was relatively straightforward in scope, but I realized that my client’s boss wanted to be recognized in the industry for innovation. As a result, I wrote a technical paper on the project and convinced my client to submit a paper, co-authored by […]

By |December 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Lasting Impressions

Over my career, I have witnessed two types of cultures in service-based companies when it comes to how they think and relate to ex-employees. This particular cultural attribute makes the difference between good and bad company reputations. Many of my friends talk about their children having a “half-full” or “half-empty” attitude toward life. The same is true of companies in how they deal with past employees.

In service companies, the culture relative to handling of ex-employees is very important and noticeable, because the whole inventory and asset factory of these companies is people who go home at the end of every day. Service company reputations are built on how they handle people. The attitudes can span generations of employees and set their engrained personalities. They either end up being positive and appreciative for past contributions of other colleagues, or negative and critical for anyone not regarded as a future contributor. As easily as reputations are built, they can be quickly destroyed.

Great companies celebrate and honor past contributions of present and past employees. They realize that previous generations and past performance have built the company and client base for which the current management and employee populations are now beneficiaries. These companies have alumni connections, encourage future participation, celebrate departures, offer alumni websites, plan reunions, write reference letters and create links long after they have left the firm. They don’t just do it because of concern that a past employee could become a client, but because they are a real, caring and appreciative community. They see the glass as half full, and really care about people other than themselves.

In these excellent companies, when a person leaves for another job, they fully realize that this individual contributed to their […]

By |November 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Perfect Storm

Most labor-based service companies run with a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for operations measurement. For service companies, often there are at least four: (1) billable time as a percent of payroll hours or dollars, (2) project profit assuming an applied company-wide overhead, (3) actual overhead or actual manageable overhead, and (4) receivables (bills) outstanding (unpaid). For companies that earn most of their income by selling hours, they also often have a measure of the labor multiple they are selling called the productivity index. This ration provides the average revenue received per dollars of salary. The numerator includes all profit from internal employees as well as subcontractors.

Each company defines their KPIs in different ways and calls them something different. For instance, project profit could be called ‘gross profit.’ Accounts receivables could be called ‘days turn of AR’ and can be further defined into unbilled and billed portions. In many companies, unbilled AR is the same as ‘work in progress’ (or WIP). This creates havoc when comparing companies and doing acquisitions.

There is no right or wrong with any of the identifiers. It is cultural and historical to each company in how they operate their levers. With that being said, I think the following is very important:

A management team must create an “apples to apples” historical base of data for at least the past five years—the longer the better. Line managers need to understand the bottom line profit effect of each parameter by its incremental change. For instance, you should understand from history that every 1% point of chargeable time affects the operating profit by approximately XX % per point. Understand what 10% points of overhead change will have on your bottom line, etc. Some smart […]

By |October 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Golden Access

In previous articles on client service, I have talked about ‘reading a client office’ and ‘leaving something behind.’ Now I want to discuss perhaps the most important client interaction trait. You should treat the receptionist and administrative assistants of your key clients with recognition, grace and care. Having the administrative staff as an ally is enormously important in many facets.

It is not hard to get along well with administrative personnel—simply treat them as equals and interact with courtesy. Read their space also. Their space will tell you about their family, pets, background, interests, vacations and personality. Engage in discussion about something you notice, without prying. Some of the most common questions to engage include, “What a terrific looking set of kids! Are they yours? Are those photos recent?” or “It is really nice to put a face to an email address! How long have you been Ms. Smith’s assistant?”

The higher your positional level, the more impressed the administrative staff is that they are noticed and you treat them with dignity and care. I am not talking about portraying false sentiments; rather, I encourage you to express genuine interest, as they are an important part of your client’s team. In fact, often they are the gatekeepers to access.

The longer I know an administrative assistant, the more likely I am to bring them something on each visit. The items I select always reflect something about me or where I live. YES, you’ve got that right—something about me. I invite them to get to know me better. So, whether it is some chocolates from a specialty Boulder candy store I like; a book on one of my hobbies; or a bracelet that my daughter made, the item relates […]

By |September 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

World Cup Lesson

Recently, many of us have been enthralled watching World Cup football. For me, it brought home a graphic example for an article on organizational design I have been working on for a year.

In the first game the U.S. team played against Ghana, their star striker, Jozy Altidore, went down with a tournament-ending leg muscle injury. The U.S. had no replacement for Jozy’s offensive capabilities. They replaced Altidore with a defensive mid-fielder, counted on only one striker and altered their strategy for the rest of their games to be purely defensive. The U.S. team’s star performer became their goalie that made a record 16 saves in their last game—a one-goal loss to Belgium. They didn’t win another 2014 World Cup game after Jozy was hurt, came in dead-last of all teams in time of possession (a metric of dominance) and were eliminated from the tournament.

Their coach (the sports equivalent to a CEO), Jurgen Klinsmann, could do nothing except cheer and show confidence. He urged his team to show more offense but their scoring talent and attitude was not up to the challenge. In the U.S.’s case, the talent and skills of players on the field reflected the outcome, not the coach’s wishes. The U.S. became an unbalanced, defensibly minded team—a strategy that rarely wins over time, and was evident at the 2014 World Cup.

The coach’s real job began well before the games when he chose the talent for the team. Jurgen simply did not select enough offensive talent to achieve balance. He opted for just a couple of scorers. This same thinking can be true in companies.

Corporations that are similar in their rationale are reflected in the balance of “players they put on […]

By |August 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Elevator Speech

I found in my last four years of being CEO, there was something consistent about remarks coming from all the people we brought into the corporate center to recruit. It happens that the American headquarters for several of our businesses, along with the global headquarters for industrial clients and our construction company, was housed in a building across the parking lot from global corporate headquarters where I was located. Often, prospective recruits who were interviewing would meet executives in both buildings. More often than not, I was one of the last people they talked with.

By the time I met them, the remark they consistently made that always caught my attention was some version of this comment: “I’ve interviewed with numerous companies, but I’ve never been to one where all the executives I meet are able to state the strategy of the company with clarity in such consistent terms and ownership.” I might add, this comment was told to me at least 20 times. Note that they did not say whether they agreed with the strategy, just that everyone could recite it with consistent accuracy and clarity.

I always bristled with pride when I heard that, but also with some confusion. I said to myself: “You mean other companies haven’t embedded the consistent understanding of their company strategy through their executive ranks? Did they not all own their vision?”

So what made that happen in our company? I can assure you that it certainly did not happen because we wanted to impress people we would be interviewing. That was an unexpected positive consequence.

What did happen was that we knew we had a complex transformational strategy. We knew that not all employees in […]

By |July 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments