As the consultant, I’m supposed to offer advice, coaching and counsel to my clients. They pay me to bring a concentrated expertise and specific judgment that likely don’t exist in their organization.

But there goes another year-end, and I have to say I learned a ton from my clients this past year. Some of it completely useless and won’t be shared here (you know who you are); other morsels of wisdom have been found to be surprisingly valuable, and I thought I’d share those tidbits with you today.

2020 Lessons Learned from my Clients – the Top 10:

  1. With no proven experts, all inputs matter. I don’t care who you are, how much you’ve learned since March or how others are fawning over your apparently newfound wisdom. No one knew shit about a pandemic when this started. No one had a roadmap for dealing with all the drama, the virus, the social distancing, masks and so on. So, since no one knew anything, we took input from everyone. Admittedly, some input turned out to be snake oil. But the fact we asked and listened to everyone – from college kids to CEOs, and everyone was on a fairly level playing field — we muddled through it.
  2. We need to get better at setting clear results-based expectations. C’mon, admit it. Most executives inexperienced with wholesale work from home were afraid. Not of required work not getting done – we had decent measures for most of the really important stuff. No, we were afraid that some employees may actually be sitting at home NOT working during work hours. Even if they were getting the job done. Ask 100 execs if they are “activity” people or “results” people. 100/100 will claim to be results-focused, all the while wondering whether Jim is working or actually watching All My Children (is that still on?).

    I’ve got a cutting-edge idea… set clear expectations for results, identify some general parameters (say, a meeting Wednesday at 10:00), then hold people accountable for results.

    C’mon, just take a couple of Xanax; you can do it!

  3. Flexibility is most important. See #2 above. Assuming no deadline to the contrary, what do you care if something gets done at 3:00 in the afternoon or 3:00 in the morning? Desired results in a quality fashion – that’s all that matters. We’ve learned that flexibility with employees is critical… and simply human. If it matters to them and doesn’t impact you, learn to say yes. It’s easy once you get the hang of it.
  4. People need people. We are social beings, and that’s never been made as true as during this apocalypse. We lost the ability to easily go face-to-face and had zoom thrust upon us. Suck it up. It’s the new “new.” We’ve had to figure out how to maintain those social needs without physical proximity. We’re texting people in our organizations who prior to the birth of the Maskasaurus didn’t even have our cell number. We have video happy hours (mine are outside, and involve cigars), and even video dinners. People need people, but we ain’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.
  5. Connections can come in many flavors. Some are meetings, which slightly resemble old meetings (by the way, if your ‘new’ meetings on video are identical to your ‘old’ meetings in person, you’re doing it wrong), some are simply direct contacts. Either way, we take ‘em where we can get ‘em.
  6. Leadership must be visible. Never as true than it is today. Be it video, face-to-face, slack, text or smoke signals, leadership has never needed to be as visible as it is today. Folks need to know that we understand their challenges, that we’re here for them when needed, and frankly, that we give a shit about what they’re going through. You can still be out front while sitting in front of a webcam.
  7. Facts beat assumptions – ASK. This isn’t new, but it certainly has become painfully obvious. Not everyone reacts the same to crisis. Not everyone needs the same support while working from home. Not everyone has a good webcam, coffee before 8:00am, or makeup before 8:30. See #3 about flexibility, then get good at asking. Don’t assume you know what someone needs without a conversation, since, in all likelihood, you’re gonna guess wrong.

    Ask.

  8. Empathy rocks. To coin a trite phrase likely coined by some trite consultant, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Empathy is a muscle – exercise it, you’ll get good at it. Or at least better. We need folks to perform, even with the world seemingly coming to an end. And since we still need them, it’s pretty fair that they still need us. Meeting them where they are – understanding that their burdens, though different from yours, are just as heavy – goes a long way to making things flow. Besides, humans care about humans (ignore the politicians).
  9. Pivot – think Jiu Jitsu, not MMA. Resilience is overrated. Wait a minute, hear me out… Resilience as commonly defined is our ability to overcome or recover from obstacles. In other words, to take whatever life dishes out, then move on without having a breakdown of sorts. Change that thinking a bit. Our best clients have learned to take the momentum from change and adversity, embrace it, then pivot that energy to a well-thought new direction.
    Not just a reactive mode of “you hit, I bleed,” but more like, “you throw a punch, I deflect it and make you fall on your ass.” See? Different.
  10. The world stops for nothing. This shouldn’t have been such a learning opportunity, but it was. Remember when Covid first hit? Most thought, “oh well, we’ll hunker down, it’ll pass, and we’ll move on. ”Yeah, HAHAHA! Riiiight…It’s still here. We had to find ways to continue our course, or as one client said, “We need to return to the business of running our business.”

Just a list of 10 of the most significant lessons I learned from my clients in 2020. Some of them, it seems, are pretty sharp.

Shhh, don’t tell ‘em I said that.

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