How highly do you rate the ability to take direction as part of the client covenant?
After all, as communication strategists, often we’re not the ones following but giving direction. To our clients, to our teams, to the people we supervise (sometimes they are cross-functional teams within the same organization, sometimes they span organizations).
The whole thing about being a team player, and “there is no I in team”… yea, well, that’s a phrase we all pay lip service to, but I think most of us would rather be leading the team as opposed to letting someone else do it. If we’re really being honest.
I’ve been teaching at Johns Hopkins University for some years now; this is my fifth, as a matter of fact. (Remind me, sometime, to tell you the story of how I got the gig; it’s almost as good as the story of how I met my husband.)
One of the things I have to drill into my students’ heads – and these are grad students, mind you – is the importance of following the directions I give them. That is, if I say something needs to be done a certain way, then they need to do it that way.
To use one of our favorite clichéd PR phrases, this isn’t rocket science, right? Yet you’d be surprised at the number who start out the class not paying attention, not following direction … and then getting upset when they don’t get as many points as they expect.
- I create extremely detailed rubrics for all the assignments I grade (and their final paper). If they don’t follow the rubrics – particularly in how they structure their papers, and what information needs to go where - they don’t get the full points possible for each section.
- If they don’t post to the discussion forum, at least the required number of times, and by the posting deadline… they don’t get the full points possible for the discussion forum.
- If they submit their papers late, they lose points (how many depends on how late they submit it), especially if they haven’t given me a heads up that they might be going through some kind of crisis/unforeseen emergency (because if they are, and it seems valid enough, I try to accommodate them).
All this is clearly outlined in the syllabus, I take pains to go over it when we first meet, but yet… they don’t follow direction.
“Well, that’s students for you.”
Perhaps. And perhaps the fact that they are graduate students – some of whom are running their own businesses (like me), and some of whom, in their day jobs, are instructing the drummer as opposed to falling in line – has something to do with it. That they are used to doing things their way, and they don’t see a reason to change.
Which is all well and good, except that by enrolling in the program, they are entering into a covenant with the university and its faculty: to learn from them. To be instructed. Which means they must actually take instruction.
Getting sorted out
Typically – at least in my class – it takes just a couple of classes for them to realize they can’t continue to march to their own beat.
Which is good, because while I’m strict, I’m strict for a reason; to try and help the students learn something that will be of value to them once they graduate from the program.
Enter the business world
Just think, though. In the business world, how well does it go over if we refuse to follow certain formats when instructed to do so… especially by clients?
“No, I don’t think I’ll fill out the form in that way. I’d rather do it my way.”
“I don’t care if the client’s budget is _______, my proposed plan and budget will be twice that. Because they don’t know what they’re missing out on.”
“They want a report in what format? That’s crazy!”
We’ve all had these moments. We will probably continue to have them. Sometimes the frustration is justified; after all, clients do hire us because we are supposed to be the “experts.” And it’s frustrating when they don’t take our advice, which can happen often.
But the one thing that I’m trying to do more of is not just hear my clients, but truly listen to where they’re coming from.
So what if they want a report in a format that’s a little more cumbersome than I’d like? Is there, perhaps, a reason for that… that it makes their life easier in some way?
So what if they shot down that uber-cool idea for the eighth time? Do they maybe know that they just don’t have the budget for it, and want to stay focused on what they do have the budget for?
The client covenant
When you and I sign agreements with clients, we too enter into a covenant with them; that if we can help make their life easier, we should. Because that is, in part, why they hire us.
Sure, they hire us for our strategic smarts, and creativity, and perhaps a number of other reasons… but also because they think we’ll work well with them. That we’ll be good partners and team players – which means taking direction when needed – and, ultimately, help them do a great job.
So every time I have the urge to tear my hair out at what I may consider a silly request, I remind myself of what it’s like to be me, with my students, who don’t follow direction.
And that straightens me out.
“@Steveology: The Client Covenant http://t.co/alqNMPwHu1 via @shonali”
Heh, I have often been told that I am too bound by directions and rules, so part of me is gleeful to see this--see! Following the directions is optimal! (Hereditary German, here...)
That said, there are times to follow the rules (in class) and times to stretch a little. Clients sometimes provide instruction that should be pushed back on, for whatever reason. If a client ever instructed me to put something I knew to be false or misleading in a news release, you had better bet I would push back on that.
The bottom line is that both students and clients are paying for expertise. The difference between the two is defined by the relationship--with students, it is largely instructive, and with clients it is largely collaborative.And I too, would love to hear the story about how you got the gig!
@jenzings I completely agree that there are times to "obey" and "disobey." And yes, if I was asked to do something unethical, or lie, I absolutely would not... in fact, I have been in very uncomfortable situations because I have refused to do those things!
It's more the listening/not listening to requested structures and formats that I think a lot of people rail against, which they really shouldn't. Our society encourages creativity and individuality, and that's a good thing; but it doesn't mean we have to be creative and individualistic at EVERY turn!
Apparently I am going to have to write a post to satisfy you ... and @rachaelseda ... and @karelyneve... ;)
@shonali I'm sure @rachaelseda is just as curious as I am. I've been wondering ever since I read it was as good as the story of how you met your husband!
I do want to hear the story of how you got the gig one day. I actually can't believe I've never asked! :)
This is great @Shonali because it goes both ways. Sometimes a client agrees to their art and then doesn't follow through. It makes it harder to achieve goals. From the contractor/consultant side it is very important to remember clients have their own processes and procedures for their business. Unless solutions can't be achieved within the existing framework, use that framework. Like saying you really should give up PCs for MACs when there is no reason to switch other than you liking MACs as a simplified example. When there is no recourse then you can only propose a change. Say content or ideas takes months to get through Legal and by the time it does it is too late. You can't force a change but you must advise one.
@HowieG It absolutely goes both ways, and that's why it's important to have an agreed-upon scope of work, so that you know if/when it's time to renegotiate.
Ha. Love it. I teach at George Mason (Undergrad Marketing) and have the same issue. I'm pretty clear about directions, grading, etc... I've moved to mostly 100% online assessment in the last year. This eliminates all "I forgot" etc.. excuses. They know that assignments are due every week BEFORE class and that quizzes are AFTER class. All 100% online.
This means that they either do the work, or they don't. There is no middle ground.
Of course there is the modern version of "the computer crashed, the internet went out" and I do listen to that.
But. I build into my assessment 6 tests of which 1 can be dropped (the lowest) score. That means that everyone can decide to either a) not do a test or b) have their system crash.
Everything is online and everything is transparent.
Don't read the syllabus ? Don't ask me for special favors !
@ShaunDakin My class is 100% online too, and I really enjoy it. We do Adobe Connect class meetings via video, so at least I know some faces in addition to names, which is nice. I like your "don't - don't" qualifier!
I needed this this morning, @Shonali, as I have managed to slog through the monsoon (hey, it's not snow, so there's an upside!) to open my email here at Curry and read a paper from an (undergrad) COM Scholars student that is, at best, unreadable. Four simple questions to answer...total miss.
Following directions is one key step toward forming a cooperative relationship in my mind. If you listen to me and heed my suggestions/directions/instructions...and vice versa...there is a very good chance that we will ultimately form a very cooperative relationship and do some very cool things.
But this requires (a) an open mind...I'm pretty good at what I do and am willing to learn how to do it even better, and (b) a willingness to be argued against and to take that response not as a criticism but as a learning moment.
My own PR students/mentees have learned that our relationship is based on two-way, "symmetric" communication (thank you, Jim Grunig!), and, if we all play by the same rules, we all succeed in one way or another.
Thanks for putting so eloquently in words what I feel in my heart and sense in every bone of my professional being!
@KirkHazlett You are a trooper, Kirk! Yes, exactly - it is so critical to building good relationships... not just for the sake of the work at hand but, frankly, for long-term benefit from a business point of view. I mean, if someone is brilliant at what they do, yet working with them is really difficult, why would anyone want to work with them again?
I don't know if it's because I'm growing older, but I see this disconnect quite a bit. Not just with my students, but with quite a few of the people I encounter as well. Sometimes it is in the blogging context, sometimes work. And this is absolutely not a scientific statement, since I have no data to back it up, but more and more I'm seeing it from Gen Y-ers. Working with them is a completely different cup of tea!