Posts Tagged ‘honesty’

27 May 2009  |  by Chris Barnes

Bring honesty to the table when building new business relationships

We all worry about making a mistake when entering into a new business relationship. Whether it’s taking our car to a new mechanic, finding a plumber, or hiring outside expertise. We don’t want to be taken advantage of, or have others (especially our boss) view our choice as flawed. Many of us have been burned in one way or another in the past, so it’s only natural that we feel a little fear.

Effective project management or simple dishonesty?

Early in my freelance career, I landed a job that required me to hire additional resources. I didn’t have much experience in sourcing and vetting vendors and was afraid of making a mistake, possibly losing money and my new account. I wasn’t sure whether I could trust the vendor to deliver their work on time, and I wasn’t sure I could trust them to charge me a fair price. So when it came time to talk about budget and schedule, I found myself wondering: should I tell them I had a lower budget and shorter time frame than I really had in order to try to get a better price and faster delivery?

Looking back, I wonder whether I acquired that impulse while working in a mistrustful corporate atmosphere where an ‘us vs. them’ mentality was the norm. In that environment, misleading a vendor was simply a strategy for obtaining the best results.

Dishonesty, however, is only an effective strategy for managing relationships based on mistrust. And if you don’t trust the firms you hire, the problem is you, not them — your process for finding and vetting expertise is failing you.

Successful relationships are built on a foundation of trust

When beginning a new relationship with any new firm, honesty really is the best policy. It’s also critical for building the trust that leads to effective collaboration. Here are a few tips for getting off to a good start…

Share your budget. If you have a target cost that’s lower than your maximum, share both numbers, but don’t withhold your budget or give an artificially low number because you fear that you will be charged more. Ethical professionals price their work on the complexity and value of the work, not the size of your wallet. A low-ball budget will only limit possible solutions to your problem.

Share your real deadline and set realistic milestones. Don’t create artificially short time frames. If stakeholders or vendors learn you have asked them to hurry just to give you peace of mind, you will have a difficult time regaining their trust. If you are concerned about making early progress, share that fact, and work together to craft a schedule for delivering rough drafts or rapid prototypes. If hitting the final deadline is worrisome, present the challenge to all participants at the beginning. Facing a common goal can be motivating, and keeping your team motivated and working cooperatively toward a common goal is the best way to ensure success.

Be particularly realistic about the amount of time needed for internal review and approval cycles. If you consistently exceed your scheduled commitments, you are giving implicit permission for others to exceed theirs. Don’t be shy about publishing a schedule that includes the real amount of time executive review requires. (It may spur some improvement.)

Identify and involve the real decision makers. Clearly identify the people who have the authority to make key decisions. People sometimes feel (or are told) that one of their roles is to act as a gate keeper. I’ve seen Director-level clients try to obscure the fact that their VP would be making the decisions (and also had vital opinions). But this behavior reflects a misplaced fear. Experienced firms know how to make effective use of decision-makers’ time, and they have nothing to gain by wasting it. In fact, they can probably help you find ways to bring focus to meetings and optimize everyone’s time.

Top-level decision makers should be involved early in the process for three key reasons:

  • to provide context and perspective from their vantage point during the discovery and diagnostic phases
  • to shape the development of strategic choices and validate solutions from a strategic and organizational perspective
  • to make tangible (to the entire team) the importance of the initiative

My experience has been consistent over the years: when decision makers are not involved early in an initiative, the risk of substantive revisions or missteps is much greater.

Be candid about your situation. Sharing information — warts and all — is the best way to ensure that firms you work with understand the context of the challenges you face. Be frank about your internal culture and politics. Give ‘air time’ to opinions and perspectives within your organization that may conflict with your vision. All of this information improves an outside firm’s ability to offer an informed perspective, articulate options, and help you navigate the logistical landscape of your project.


And in the end…
So what did I tell my vendor? Well, I realized that I could only expect to receive as much integrity as I offered. It hasn’t occurred to me to withhold information since, and you know what? I’m certain that I’ve gotten better results and had fewer headaches because of it.