Check Yourself Before You Wreck…Others

Consulting is the business of finding balance. Somewhere in the insanity you must find the balance between taking care of the projects you have, managing your team, overseeing your business, and carefully keeping an eye open for the next opportunity and positioning yourself for the win. Since I’ve never been on the client side I don’t know exactly how consultants are viewed, but generally I get the sense that we may be one step above ambulance chasers. Unfortunately, our industry has not done much to improve this image. In fact, watching many of the large corporations and how they do business development I myself am sickened by the consulting world. Calling a client every week or every other week to see what opportunities are coming up and/or is there any new information on that project we discussed recently is not what I see as developing a trust relationship with the client.

My introverted nature creates an aversion to randomly calling clients to ask about work. I want my work to speak for itself. I want clients to choose me because they trust me with the work they need done. My dad is a carpenter. People called him because he had a reputation for being the best at what he did. He had a specific style and the clients for whom he worked appreciated what he provided. There is a part of me that longs for clients to choose to work with me because of what I provide. However, the reality is that I’m in an open and competitive marketplace. Consultants are constantly bombarding the people I want to work with delivering messages about how they “are the best modeling firm”, the “best design firm”, the “best firm for this or that job.” And me in my introverted space am reluctant to sell myself because it feels like self aggrandizing. That’s not who I am.

So if I could sit with my clients and tell them how I feel, what would I say? I started my own consulting firm because I believed that it ultimately would allow me to provide better service to my clients. Yes, it’s a for profit business, but I can tell you it’s a modest profit and I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the relationships. I’m in it to do something special. I’m in it because I know the things that we do are valuable to our local communities. From a personal perspective, I enjoy taking the time to produce work that is worthy of my clients’ praise. I truly appreciate a pat on the back now and then and a “job well done.” It’s rare that I hear that type of praise and to be honest, it’s those words that are worth more than gold to me.

Right now I’m in the midst of a potentially large opportunity coming our way. It’s an opportunity that the members of my firm and I have worked hard for. We’ve come to the brink of getting the job that gets us to that “critical mass” level as a consulting firm. Unfortunately, the reality of contracting and potentially the politics of the engineering community may result in this opportunity being directed to another consulting firm that has no history on the project and really no better chance of ultimate success. I’m torn between that self aggrandizing I was talking about earlier and just trusting in the universe, karma, or whatever it is that would deliver some positive mojo for us. It’s interesting being on this side, the “ambulance chaser” side. I know how every win or loss affects the lives of those who work for me, for those who are looking for a job and want to work for me, and on a personal level, my own self-esteem, my ability to provide for my family, and ultimately my desire to grow a company that is a positive force in the engineering consulting community.

In reflecting on the situation I realize how I need to always be thinking about my decisions and how they affect other people. Whether it’s what I say or do or a decision I make, these things have impacts on others and I should always be fully aware of what those impacts may be. As a business owner, I’m a leader who must look to take care of those who work for me as well as taking care of the clients who hire me to get work done. As a father, I’m a support and foundation for my children as they launch into the world to find their own happiness and purpose. As a husband I’m a lifelong friend, protector, lover, and cheerleader for my wife. And finally, as a consultant, I’m a public servant who always looks to the interests of the public first.

Who are you and how do your actions or decisions affect others?

The Way We Win Matters

I’ve talked to my team a lot over the last several years about the ups and downs of the business and in particular the competition we have with other companies.  It’s been an interesting dynamic to watch.  As our company became more and more competitive with the established consulting firms we began hearing feedback regarding what people were saying about us, especially to our clients.  Any sign of weakness and some of our competitors were there to remind our clients of how we were a “start-up”, that we were “unstable”, that we could fail at any time.  In fact I even heard it from individuals we interviewed to fill positions with our company.  To be honest, it caused a deep pain in my heart.  I have only ever wanted to create a company that takes care of our clients, challenges the industry to be better, and in the end helps to sharpen the entire community in which I work.

What I have realized in starting my own company is that I am part of a broad community.  If we’re ever going to get better and improve the quality of what we do we have to work together.  We need to push one another, challenge one another, and even help one another.  Yes, there are times when you have an advantage and you ride the wave of that advantage while you can realizing that everyone else will be catching the next wave right behind you.  In our business it doesn’t take long until someone else figures out what you’re doing and how to duplicate it.

However, at the end of the day, for me, competition comes down to respect.  Sure, I want to win every time I compete, but everyone I’m competing against are people worthy of my respect; they have feelings, they have families, they have purpose, and they have dreams just like I have.  So when I win, I want it to be in a way that treats others with respect.  In the end, the way we win matters.

Being the Underdog and Other Martyr Related Musings

I posted this on my personal blog MyThreeSheep, but think it has a lot of relevance in the consulting world, especially for those of us who have our own business or dream of starting one so I decided to post something more personal today.

Hey, that sounds like my luck
I get the short end of it
Oh I love to be
I love to be the underdog

-Imagine Dragons

I spend significant time thinking about why things don’t always go the way I would like them to. In particular, I look at my career and the passion I have and wonder, “why won’t more people hire me?” I get frustrated competing against bigger companies or against competitors with a longer track history, i.e. they’ve been in business longer than I have been. Some of them just have better personal relationships with clients than I have; maybe they worked at the same company at one time or they share personal non-work time together. Whatever the case, it’s frustrating to so desperately want people to recognize you and what you provide, but they don’t seem to see you as a viable competitor or at least as having what it takes to place number one on a project selection. There have been a lot of second places in the past year or so and, as they say, there’s often no reward for second place because second place just isn’t good enough. This is not a lesson we seem to be teaching our children in our current society. It’s a harsh reality. But there is so much to be learned about ourselves when we don’t finish first. It is when we strive and try and fall just short of our goals that we really have to dig deep. It’s also a moment we can reflect and realize our successes and be proud of how close we’ve come. Not winning doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Failure comes when we give up and stop trying to improve ourselves. We must realize who we have become in the journey. It refines us, it shapes us, it improves us. If you really look at it through the lens of hope you can embrace the struggle.

“The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.” -C.S. Lewis from the movie Shadowlands

I love a good story. My favorites are the ones where everything has gone wrong for someone and everyone has turned their back on the protagonist. It’s that martyr moment when everyone turns away that we really find out what we are made of. How often do we have those moments when we want to crawl into our hole and hide from the rest of the world or we just want to drop our desires and passions because we feel like we’ll never have the things we hope for? We should all be grateful for the gift of hope, that small seed inside of us that never dies no matter what we are facing. The quote I shared is one that has stuck with me since I first heard it watching the movie Shadowlands, the story of the life of C.S. Lewis. It specifically is talking about loving and losing someone, but it is so much more profound than that. It explains every part of the human experience. Why do I keep striving in the face of rejection? Why do I keep suffering, keep hoping, keep going? Because not only is the quote something that is past tense, i.e. it’s better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all, but it’s also future tense; the joy and happiness we feel when things are right, when we win, when life is all we had hoped for, is made better by the experience of the pain we’ve gone through in getting to that point. If you are simply given everything you want, how will you ever appreciate it?

As I sit here today watching the snow fall outside my home office window, listening to some music on iTunes, I’m reminded of something about myself that keeps me going every day. I like being the underdog. I like to be underestimated. In some ways I like to be taken for granted. I like having the opportunity to show everyone what I’m made of. Overcoming obstacles and challenges makes for such a better story than, “I started a company and, from day one, I was successful. Everyone loved me, wanted to work with me, and I made lots of money.” Honestly, I have a hard time believing that story even exists and if it does, would that be something any of us would find compelling? Nobody makes movies called “Successful From Day One.” Whether we’re kids or adults we like stories like A Series of Unfortunate Events, or Star Wars or Harry Potter. We want to see the main character prevail, but what makes it compelling is the struggle. And so I say I enjoy my role as the underdog. It challenges me to be better, to “train” harder, to try to out think my competition. Maybe I’ll win and maybe I won’t. But when I do, there is great satisfaction in having overcome the odds. Wouldn’t you rather have a life that, if written in words, would be an interesting read? So would I.