One of the axioms of being a good consultant is this: Always tell the truth to your clients! Now this may seem like a no-brainer, but every one of us has experienced moments where we’ve wanted to refrain from telling the truth out of fear that we’ll offend. For a professional management consultant, telling the truth carries the additional fear of losing a client, with all of the financial consequences that entails.
I was reminded of this axiom while working with a large non-profit based in Los Angeles. I was hired to help the board of directors get clear on its governance role. The CEO felt the board was asserting too much control. But as I dug deeper, I found that the board had every reason to be concerned. There was no clear vision, no clear strategy, and the only action plans were on paper – no one truly owned them.
I met with the CEO and told him that my goal, above all else, was to help him and his organization be successful. I told him that, frankly, I felt the organization lacked direction. The strategic planning that the Board had done in 2007 had not resulted in a clear strategic plan. Nothing had not been captured on paper. The management team was off on its own, with no sense of coordinated action or accountability. Frankly, I told him, we needed to start at the beginning. I then looked at him, not sure what to expect.
“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “And I need you to say that to the Board – not once, but many times.”
I raised an eyebrow. After all, he was responsible for the lack of a plan, for the lack of coordination.
“You say that to the Board, and then help us develop a plan,” he said. “That will assure them that we’re on the right track.”
“I can’t do that,” I explained. “You have to carry that message. I can support you, but the Board needs to hear your commitment to making that happen.”
He paused, and then smiled. “No, you’re right again. I’ll let them know that we could have done better. And then I’d like to turn it over to you to facilitate a discussion with them. Can you do that?”
“I would be happy to,” I said. And that was the truth.