Avoiding the Perfectionism Trap - How to Manage Client Expectations For Real World Results

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Success in consulting work often hinges on how you manage client expectations. Although it's not reasonable for any client to expect a consultant to be perfect - after all, the clients themselves are not perfect - if you have been consulting for any length of time, you may sometimes suspect that perfection is what clients are after. In other words, while you do battle in the real world, the client sits in something of an ivory tower, imagining what your deliverables will look like. Rather than get caught in this "perfectionism trap", at the start of any project, take steps to ensure that clients will have realistic expectations of what you will deliver.

Starting out with a detailed proposal or other scope of work is essential for setting the stage so the client cannot claim the final work product does not measure up. The proposal is where you can not only set out what you are going to do but can also specify, in detail, what will be delivered. The proposal can cover both numeric or quantitative deliverables, such as the number of completed interviews or geographic territories to be covered, along with the qualitative outcomes expected, such as the kind of detail that is realistic.

It's also a good idea to specify probabilities or outcomes from any work you are doing, which can also go in your proposal or scope of work. If the client has several targets for the project, and you know some can be met 100% but others less than 100%, spell this out. Rather than lose you the project, such frankness will more likely earn you respect; clients will see that they are not being sold a "bill of goods" when hiring your firm. If necessary, if there are a lot of variables being targeted in your work, prepare a chart or some other guide to what can be expected at the end of the project. This approach will also work if the client is giving you a very tight turnaround; by specifying that the available time will produce, say, 70% of the results they would like whereas a timeframe of slightly longer will produce 100% of the results, they cannot turn around later and say you should have delivered everything under a challenging situation.

Another tactic is to prepare the client for the results as you near completion of the assignment. Such a briefing can be done in person; at this stage, it's more important to discuss what the client can expect rather than show them any specific results. (You can claim that you're still crunching the numbers and cannot provide specifics at this point.) A near-to-completion briefing will also go a long way towards neutralizing any unreasonable expectations the client is harboring and set the stage for the results that you will be delivering. If the client has been enticed by the briefing into having more reasonable expectations, there's a greater chance that the actual results will surprise them pleasantly rather than unpleasantly.

Managing client expectations in this way and avoiding the perfectionism trap will allow you to keep successfully maneuvering through the world of consulting for many years to come.

Copyright Deborah C. Sawyer

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Avoiding the Perfectionism Trap - How to Manage Client Expectations For Real World Results

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This article was published on 2010/04/02