Schoolboy with a chalk idea lightbulb above his head

I had a recent experience with a client that was very humbling about the importance of not faking it and going back to school. It was a great insight for me around the importance of really knowing your subject, content and tool.  Let me explain further below.

I was asked by a client to assist in the roll-out of a psychometric tool across a large project. It is a client that I have worked with for a number of years and very much enjoy the work, the people and the challenge of helping to deliver this project through the people and organisations involved.   We have been working with the management team and was asked to present to them an overview of the psychometric tool we intended to roll out to the management team, wider management and the project team.  This presentation needed to focus on why we chose this tool and its benefits, how we planned to roll it out and what the tool was about.

When putting the presentation together prior to the session, it became very apparent to me that I was a little rusty with the particular psychometric tool.  It had been over eleven years since I had done my accreditation, and I had used it quite sparingly in comparison to other tools that we frequently use in our consulting firm.   I started to have strong doubts as to my ability to present with confidence to the management team and subsequently undertake the work.

The presentation rolled around and we were in front of the management team.  It started smoothly but got progressively worse.  Questions were asked that I could not provide insightful and confident responses to.  I was using language around tool that was not correct with examples that did not resonate with the management team.  Further, I did not convey the benefits of the tool to the management and project team well which left doubts in the eyes of my key client contact and the rest of the audience.  It was not my best work!

I left the meeting and boarded a flight back to Australia.   I wrote an email apologising to my key client contact for the manner in which I presented at this important stage of delivering high performance on the project.   For me, it was about taking responsibility for not being prepared, schooled up and really thorough in ensuring I knew the tool back to front and how it would benefit the client.  After all, this is what they had paid me to provide.

The clients response was nothing but constructive.  They appreciated the honesty and the taking of responsibility for not delivering my best work.  The focus was more on what we needed to do to ensure the roll out of the new psychometric tool was a success.  We collectively brainstormed some ideas on what we needed to do to make this happen.  I was extremely appreciative of this response.

When I got back to Adelaide, I enrolled immediately in getting re-accredited in the tool.  I went back to school for four intense days of training, tests and learning.  Not only did I love it but the next session I had with the client a couple of weeks later was a very positive one.  They immediately picked up that I was much more familiar with the tool, was clear on how we planned to roll it out and was ready to run workshops and coaching to deliver insights to the management team.

It is a great lesson for all of us as consultants given that clients pay for and value our expertise around our tools, solutions or methodologies that we offer.  How often do we rely on our previous knowledge and training gained many years ago?  Are we going back to school enough to relearn and gain additional insights and skills that benefit our clients?  Are we learning from others so that we can leverage this for our client?

I know for me that I had not done enough of this but will focus on this as a priority in the future.  One other key insight that I learned was that the more you learn, the less you realise you know.  Continuing to reinvest in your training is vital to being a great consultant.  Faking it and hoping people don’t see your lack of training may work one out of five times but you will be found out.  Challenge yourself to keep learning and improving and watch your confidence, competence and subsequent success all increase.