Make It Right When You Miss the Mark

“This isn’t exactly what we had in mind.”

That is the phrase that every consultant dreads hearing when you submit your final deliverable. I heard this a few weeks ago. I was pretty devastated. I thought I had gone above and beyond what I had promised to provide for them. Instead, I had missed the mark.

After getting over the initial shock (and, quite honestly, the devastation), I took some time to reflect where there had been miscommunication. There were a lot of reasons. My main point of contact (POC) transitioned to another entity about 80% of the way through the project. He and I had a strong working relationship and we “got” each other. We had had lots of conversations about what was working and what wasn’t, and how we wanted to proceed. There were other people involved in the project, but they weren’t nearly engaged (or were not in a position to make decisions). When my POC moved on, I should have done a better job of checking in to ensure that the expectations were still the same. Instead, I relied on the scope of work and the subsequent questions from meetings throughout the work to guide the final deliverable.

In the end, my client wanted to know and understand how they could be the “best of the best.” My message to them was that, before they could think about being a “best in class” organization, there was a fair amount of effort that they needed to accomplish to improve their work. In some ways, they were currently doing a disservice to the population they were serving. But that is not what they wanted to hear.

When I spoke with a colleague about the situation, to solicit input and advice, she said, “You were courageous to tell them what they didn’t want to hear. They may never want to hear it, but you still did the right thing. And – you still need to make it right with them.” And I did – or at least I can say that I tried pretty darn hard.

Last week, I kicked off a new strategic planning project. I asked the question, “If we had unlimited resources, what would be all the things you would want your organization to do, or to achieve?” One of the participants responded: “Before we start thinking about what we could be, don’t we want to take a look at how we should strengthen our current programs?” The question led to a productive conversation so that, as a group, we could be clear on what we were trying to accomplish in our work together. And now we’re better prepared for success.

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