Sinclair Schuller September 10, 2019
When founding Nuvalence, Rakesh, Abe and I labored over our “Principles.” Based on our experiences, we knew that defining our core values would lead to the best outcome for our customers. But why define Principles? They’re just words that go on posters that get hung up on the office wall, right? Wrong. Implementing a company’s principles provides the “connective tissue“ for the habits that the team will form. This is what makes it so important. That connective tissue defines how those habits relate to each other, and how they relate to customer outcomes. In fact, I’ll be bold and state unequivocally that without Principles, good habits can never form.
The purpose of this post isn’t to describe our Principles (you can find them here). Instead, this post is to outline the habits that have emerged as a consequence of our Principles. As J. Willard Marriot, founder of Marriott Corporation once said, “…it’s the little things that make the big things possible”
Planning weekly value creation: While overarching goals are important, the most critical habit to develop is to care about delivering constant value. Your consulting partner should be able to deliver real value week over week. Without this, there is too much “slippage”; long periods of action with no discernable value. Your partner should demonstrate a habit of delivering weekly goals, a summary of what was accomplished in the prior week, and any support they need from you to unblock work.
Accountability through accounting: Many consultants are reluctant to sign up for outcomes. After all, if they don’t deliver, you wouldn’t be incentivized to extend their SOW, would you? The easiest path for a consultant is to sign-up for advice, but not commitments. Your partner should demonstrate a habit of signing up for your deadlines and goals.
Liberal note-taking: It looks “cool” to throw your arm behind your chair in a meeting and lean back, saying that everything makes sense. Unfortunately, that’s not a good habit. Huge bodies of research show that note-taking improves knowledge acquisition in a big way. When you bring a consulting partner on board, ask them about their note-taking habits. Better yet, a couple of weeks into an engagement, ask if you can get their notes from the meeting.
Periodically consistent, granular time tracking: When hiring a firm, you’re paying for a partner’s subject matter expertise per unit of time (e.g. for 1 hour of digital platform expertise). A good partner will have the habit of tracking every hour of time they invest in working with you so you can be confident that you’re paying for what you need.
Non-opportunistic communication: Communicating when needed (e.g. scheduled status updates) is easy and obvious. Good partners have a habit of finding reasons to communicate that are off schedule: to give you insight on something you didn’t know, to connect you with someone that can be valuable to you, etc. Look at your partner’s communication pattern. If it’s “regularly scheduled” communication, they don’t have good communication habits.
A “No Surprises” communication style: If development work is blocked while waiting for input from your customer, that should not be a surprise to your customer. If your deliverable is behind schedule because you uncovered additional prerequisites that were not in the original plan, that should not be a surprise to your customer. If the development of your deliverable is proceeding according to plan, that should not be a surprise to your customer. Hiding uncomfortable news from the client until you are forced to admit issues exist when a deliverable is late never works out in your favor. Communicating openly so everyone can manage expectations is almost always the best policy.
Indeed, the little things matter most. The little things are what inoculate Principles from becoming office poster memes. Habits are the chemistry that converts Principles into value. Why? Because habits are what customers experience. Do yourself a favor: if you’re an organization looking to leverage consulting partners, see past the pitch deck and ask the consultants about their habits. Always ask what the day-to-day or week-to-week expectations will be in terms of communications, work delivered, etc.
If you’re a consultant, what habits do you think are important? If you’re a client, what habits have you found that correlate with good performance?