Hone consulting skills to maximize satisfaction of internal clients, too

"He seemed like such a nice guy," the HR manager said, after explaining how her relationship with a key manager had deteriorated over the past few months. "He is one of my most important internal customers and I can’t afford to be at odds with him."

After probing a bit into the history of the relationship, one glaring cause started to emerge. She had never taken the time to set mutual expectations with this customer nine months before, when she started her new job. With no common understanding about roles, responsibilities and boundaries, the relationship was likely to be defined the hard way—through conflict.

The next time she begins to work with a new internal customer—or with existing customers on a new project—she plans on nailing down a few things right up front. Some of these questions may not be appropriate for the kind of internal consulting you do but I suspect that many of them would help you to establish clear expectations and commonly understood outcomes. In fact, some of these questions are also appropriate to use with your manager when you are being given a new assignment.

Here are some contracting questions to get you started:

  1. What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. Are there any pre-conceived solutions you see?
  3. Are you open to other solutions I may propose?
  4. What outcomes are you looking for? What form should they take: written report, oral recommendations, etc.?
  5. Who wants this resolved?
  6. Who has authority to approve this project? How should I be communicating with or involving this person?
  7. How will you and others measure success?
  8. Who else is working on this, or has worked on it in the past? What results were achieved?
  9. From whom do I need additional input/data and what is the best way to get it?
  10. What boundaries should I know about regarding where my responsibilities may overlap with others?
  11. What levels of authority do I/others have in this project?
  12. What are the risks inherent in this project?
  13. How do you feel about the amount of control you have over the outcome?
  14. What are the opportunities inherent in this project?
  15. Who else needs to be involved in the project? Who needs to be included in communications?
  16. Who will coordinate things on your end?
  17. What information do we need from each other and what preferences do each of us have for communicating? (E-mail, voice mail, informal visits, formal feedback sessions, etc.)
  18. What timeline are you expecting?
  19. What situations will signal to either one of us that the project isn’t going well?
  20. What parts of this project are confidential or should be selectively communicated?
  21. In what parts of the project will we need each other’s input or active involvement?
  22. When should we get together to monitor progress on this project and give each other feedback?

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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