Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some Were Born to Lead, Others We Aren’t Quite Sure

Being a consultant, I get around the corporate world so-to-speak. I go to many different companies, and get tossed into many different types of corporate cultures.

There are the exceptionally eased-back corporate cultures, where blue jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops are the accepted form of daily dress. Then there is the other extreme, where fresh pressed suites and ties rule.

Whatever the corporate culture, a title should mean relatively the same thing across organizations, especially at the management or executive level. So, someone with the high ranking title of “Vice President” should have the same level of professionalism and experience at the company where blue jeans are the norm, and at the suite and tie shop.

However, it isn’t – in fact I often wonder how some people got to their high paying senior roles. Maybe they slept with the right people up the corporate ladder, or maybe they are related to the owner, or maybe they just happened to buy enough stock in the company.

As a consultant, my first indication of whether a potential client is worthy of my continued interest are the very first people I meet – most of whom are senior managers, executives, and their administrative staffs.

Recently, I encountered a vice president who was all eager and seemingly interested in my services. She was glowing over my solutions to her problems – as if she’d never heard of such wisdom before.

My job as a consultant, is to pin-point a company’s problem, and provide the solution. So her enthusiasm, although it was pleasantly received, did raise an initial red flag – surely she must have been discussing her problems with other consultants to find the best solution? That’s her job – to find the consultant with the best solution, within her budget, and then go with it.

We chatted for a while, and ended saying we’d email each other the required materials to get the ball rolling – she wanted to see some more samples from my portfolio, and I needed to see the project scope and timelines, so I could provide her with an assessment of time and cost to do the work.

I had mixed feelings already, as she was rushing the process, while at the same time indicating the project she had in mind for me didn’t start until the end of the month. There were also some issues I had with how she intended to pay for my services, but that is something I’d be happy to workout later, once we get a contract hammered out.

It was a Friday when we met, but she assured me she checks her email on weekends, so we’d both be ready to meet again on Monday and finalize the contract.

I worked late on Friday night, gathering the most relevant materials based on our discussions. Around seven Friday night, I emailed her what she was looking for. It was a large compressed ZIP file, but if it didn’t arrive, I’d get a bounced message back – or at the very least, because she checks her email and is expecting a large message from me, she would email me quickly asking why she hadn’t received it.

I’m on and off my email all weekend, and never receive a bounced message, so I assume the large email I sent reached her. But I don’t receive anything back – no project plans, no timelines, nadda.

I sent another email asking if she got my email, and inquiring about the one she told me she’d send on Saturday.

Sunday after Midnight – so technically the weekend is over as it is the wee hours of Monday – I receive an email from this vice president, advising that she hasn’t received my email!

For someone who checks her email on weekends, obviously she didn’t this weekend. She wanted me to send her the email again, and said we’d have to push back our meeting until Wednesday.

I was frustrated and disappointed, as I saw more red flags raised, but I attempted once again. I sent her a smaller email, and reminded her to send me the project specs.

Early Wednesday morning, the day I’m supposed to meet with her, she requests more samples, and wants to push back the meeting to another time. I still haven’t received anything from her, and I’ve already provided her with more materials than most potential clients, so now I’m really fuming.

Anyone who’s been in this business long enough to earn the title of vice president should be able to make a decision on whether to go ahead or not with the project, based on the materials I’ve provided, and offer my something concrete in writing. Unless of course she never really earned her title – maybe she’s the president’s niece, or sister-in-law, or lover, or whatever, but she certainly isn’t acting like a vice president.

I respond with a few more samples, advising her that I have other projects on the go, and the sooner she can make a decision, the better the chance she has of having me on the team. I advise her that we’ll meet once she has had a chance to go over the newly sent materials, as there is no point in meeting before. I still haven’t received anything from her, which is another major red flag.

When an administrative assistant says she’ll do something and doesn’t, you know that at that low level on the corporate food chain, that occurs. But at the management and executive levels, when someone says they will do something and they don’t, you know there is a serious problem within the company’s management.

Over the next few days, this supposedly vice president, requests more samples, and continues to set different times and days for meeting, which just as quickly as she sets the appointment, she asks me if I can reschedule for another time.

I got the feeling that she was intentionally stalling. Oh she wanted me on the team, but the project didn’t start until the end of the month, and we’re only in the first week of the month. So, instead of being a professional, and being honest with me, she strings me along, hoping to buy enough time until the project’s funds become available to bring me aboard. Alternatively, maybe she didn’t know enough about her job, and was hoping the more samples I sent her, the more ideas she could steal so she could do the work? Either way, it was another red flag, waving in the murky air.

I realize that this company isn’t worthy of my attention – maybe the company is well managed, just this one individual at the top isn’t very good at her job. But then again, maybe the whole company is run in such an unprofessional way? Who knows, I can only base my decision on those I am working with, and at this early stage of the game, this amateur vice president is the only person I am dealing with.

So I advise the vice president that I’ve taken on another client and will have no time for her project, but I wish her every success in finding the right consultant for her needs.

She emails me back, asking if I’ll be available in a few weeks, to work on her project. I ignore her email and move on – and I bet I’m not the first nor the last person who’s done that.

She was fishing to see if I was yet another alienated professional, which she has scared off because of her failure to be what she claims to be – a vice president.

She may not know how or why people suddenly put the brakes on her projects, but she’s probably found the right consultant before, only to have that person back off quickly and never work with her again.

And that is too bad, because it sounded like an exciting project. But having someone in the wrong role in a company can cost it big time – now she’s got to find another consultant, and hopefully, she won’t scare him off as well.

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