Sometimes you get great clients; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you (the freelancer) and the client create a relationship that works deeply and well. That happened to me in the last month, and it was no accident. I met the new client (whom I’ll call X) on a teaching visit. He was not the usual contact, but we were introduced because he needed a new course. I agreed I could develop the course.
Without knowing everything, I created an estimate, which X thought was too high. Never wanting to have to raise an estimate during the job, I’d included a lot of items which may or may not be necessary. Instead of disapproving the estimate, he asked me to trim the budget. I suggested ways that his company could do some work that takes up a lot of my time. Each of us concentrated on the items we did well. Best outcome of all is letting each person contribute their expertise.
Then X invited me to a brainstorming session for the new workbook, and I accepted. If you’ve been working in training development for any length of time, you know that anything is possible, from a tedious meeting with three overworked employees, to a meeting with too many people who want opposite outcomes, or, more rarely, a meeting in which a lot of work gets done, people work through differences by expanding what is possible instead of look at what won’t work, and the beginning of a good book emerges.
Yes, that last outcome is what happened in this case. What makes a successful meeting?
- Both parties come prepared. I had created a full content outline, along with timing markers and suggestions of who would present what material. The client had prepared the room for uninterrupted work, markers, places to write. He also had numbers, facts, and background information ready.
- There is an agenda, with time points. A meeting with no agenda is not a meeting. It’s a social gathering at which people vent grievances, tell stories, and look for allies. There may be some private gains, but no real work toward the goal is accomplished.
- Each member respects the expertise of the other. Every meeting is a mix of expertise, experience, and ideas. In the best of meetings, one person’s expertise fits in where another person doesn’t have the knowledge. When expertise overlaps, each person calmly presents an idea and it is discussed.
- Listening is the reaction to talking. Real listening. Deep listening. Listening followed by questions that clarify and ask for detail. Understanding is built on listening and asking good questions, rather than pushing your answer as the only right answer.
- Discussion of pros and cons. Every step, every idea, every solution has pros and cons. They need to be weighed against priorities, budgets, and people available to carry out the ideas. Not every brilliant idea is a brilliant idea right now. There is such a thing as budget planning and timing. Some brilliant ideas need a runway to rumble down before they can take off.
- Everyone can be a hero. X made sure that every good idea was noticed and honored. He added his own ideas as potential possibilities, not as absolutes. He was easy to agree with as he was easy to disagree with. A hero atmosphere encourages heroic ideas.
- Before the meeting ends, there is a re-cap and a next-step list, along with a list of who will do what in which time frame. Everyone leaves knowing their work is important to the outcome.
Success is not accidental. It is not rooted in force, demands, or arrogance. I deeply admire X for his intelligence, which includes letting others shine. The class is going to come from many levels of expertise, and every level of that class will be valuable. Thanks to a smart client.
—Quinn McDonald is a trainer and developer who respects (and is grateful for) a good client.
Note: Sometimes a Great Notion is the name of a novel by Ken Kesey, who also wrote One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The movie of Sometimes a Great Notion was directed by Paul Newman and starred Henry Fonda and Lee Remick.