Like many other early-30’s project and programme management consultancy professionals, I encounter a variety of customers on a regular basis and frequently need to be conscious that ‘first impressions matter’. My customers are always more experienced than me in their business sector and more familiar with the processes and politics of their company. My first task is to build credibility within their team – Why now? Why me?
For me, credibility means believability, it is subjective and wholly comes from how others perceive me - it is about persuasion.
Credibility is difficult to build once and almost impossible to re-build. When preparing to start work with a new customer, it may seem sensible to prepare by refreshing your mind of PPM theory, making sure you are ready to dazzle with your impressive text book knowledge. Alternatively, you could consider how best to go about persuading your customer that you are a truly credible member of their team.
I like to put myself in my customer’s shoes by considering what has driven the need for me to join their business now? If all businesses are constantly experiencing cycles of change a customer and their team may psychologically be at any point along a typical change cycle.
During a period of poor business performance where pessimism, anger, despair and uncertainty may be rife, my introduction may be seen by some as a threat associated with wide spread change and ‘inevitable’ job losses, or to others as the ‘knight in shining armour’ breathing new life into an ailing programme or project.
Following acceptance of change and an acceleration in performance improvements, my introduction may be welcomed as further reinforcement for the turnaround of the programme or project, or to others as a needless addition as effective change is already being experienced.
If building credibility is about persuading a customer of the value that you can bring, what are the components of successful persuasion?
- Being - demonstrated through commitment to understanding the needs of the customer and their business
- Doing - demonstrated through sharing relevant experience
- Knowing - demonstrated through researching and sharing ideas and theories.
During the early days of a new customer assignment, I want to demonstrate genuine commitment to understanding their business and people and making a valuable contribution as early as I can. This may be demonstrated through:
- Positive intent – energy, commitment, enthusiasm
- Meeting the team and key stakeholders early and understanding their skills, experiences, behaviours and past performance
- Delivering on commitments made
- Listening and exploring, especially if working in a new business or sector
- Understanding the project or programme status – its objectives, structures, current phase, progress, nature of requirement
- Understanding that I am a ‘new piece of the jigsaw’ that needs to fit into the puzzle
- Looking for feedback and regular progress discussions
- If appropriate, preparing an introductory email to colleagues to explain my background, experience and interests
- Looking for opportunities to socialise with colleagues after hours.
How I ‘behave’ is the most important component of building credibility and is inextricably linked to how I can effectively share what I ‘do’ and ‘know’.
Many consultants may believe that having experience that is relevant to the customer’s type of business must be the most important component for building credibility, but it is only secondary for me. This is because the way is which this experience is valued is dependent on how it is shared and it is impossible to understand what experience is indeed relevant without having taken the time to understand the specific business and customer needs.
Undoubtedly experience and real examples will beat text book theories, but further commitment may be demonstrated by researching relevant subjects and openly discussing concepts to address a customer’s challenges.
As a project and programme management consultant joining an existing customer team, like many facets of life, first impressions matter. In an industry where we are used to refining our gleaming CVs to impress with our wide range of experience and qualifications, perhaps it is what does not appear in print that is in fact the most important component for sustained success. Come day two of a new customer assignment, what really matters is how you behave and how you demonstrate genuine commitment to the customer’s project and programme and to making a valuable contribution as early as you can.