Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Clients are people too - looking after the client

In my last post I spoke of the need to recognise that clients are people to with their own needs, personalities and places within the organisation.

I now want to extend this analysis, focusing on the needs of clients as people working within organisations.

The management and business related professions as a whole face a problem. Too few of us have actually worked in management roles within organisations, too many of us have spent our whole careers in particular professional slices. Among other things, this can make us insensitive to the practical and political problems faced by our clients.

All organisations have their own structures, processes and cultures. We know this. In fact, many of us advise on ways of changing structures, cultures and processes.

Yet in all this, we can forget that our clients as people have to operate within organisations. To them, the structures, processes and cultures are a daily reality. Their ability to operate in an effective fashion depends critically upon the way that they are perceived within the organisation.

To illustrate by example.

A well recognised individual usually has power and influence extending well beyond their formal position. This makes it easier for them to do things.

Conversely, a poorly regarded individual's power and influence will normally be less than that notionally attached to their position. Their ability to do things is consequently reduced.

As consultants, we generally notice this because it affects our ability to do a job. If our direct client is well regarded, things become easier. Poorly regarded, and we strike delivery obstacles and road blocks.

How does this relate to our role? At one level, these are just things that we have to work around if we can. At a second level, we should never forget that that what we do affects the position of our direct personal client within the organisation.

If we do well, then the position of the individual client will improve. If we stuff up, then their position is likely to be damaged. So over and beyond but still subject to our professional obligations, I think that we have a responsibility to look after our clients. We need to be sensitive to the fact that failure on our part affects not just us, but also the client as a person.

This does not mean breaching professional standards. Rather, the requirement to be sensitive to the needs of and and to look after the client should be seen as one element in those standards.


Anonymous said...

As an "ex client" now professional, (social worker), this strikes a chord. Cultural change within an organisation at a management level, (the whole hierachy), involved & committed to truly "valuing" clients is one of the biggest barriers to effecting REAL change for people who experience disadvantage. These statements recognise this ! Well done

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, Anon. I haven't written directly on people who experience disadvantage. I have written a fair bit on the way organisational structures and cultures stand in front of the client. As you say, you have to reach the whole hierarchy to bring about real change.