How To Know If You're Adding Value

To bring value to a project or your team, set aside your predispositions to listen, learn, and discover what they need and where they believe they need to go.

Matthew D Edwards
January 12, 2021

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Helping a client get to where they want to go may be different than where you think they should go.

Consider the following: Your company has an outstanding reputation in the industry in which it operates. And folks who work at this company are considered to be some of the best and brightest. Personally, you are a highly educated, experienced professional in your field and one of the top in your company. A potential client contacted your company to explore a project idea they have in mind and you are tapped to vet the opportunity.

Your responsibility is to understand what the client wants and explore whether your company should pursue this opportunity.

For the purposes of this article, a client is anyone to whom you are to provide a product or service; whether internal or external to your company. Additionally, for this article, value is defined as value proposition, one or more desired outcomes; or otherwise stated, getting the client from where they are to where they want to be.

After listening to the client discuss where they believe they are, where they want to go, and their overall definition of done, you find yourself in an interesting position. From your experienced perspective, the definition of done is way-point #10 illustrated below. Based upon what you believe you're hearing from the client, their definition of done is way-point #4.

Who is right?

Illustration of getting from here to there with a path up a mountain.
Illustration 1: Getting "from here to there" is relative to a client's current context. Don't just look at things stated and their implications. Look at the client's current and historical social, cultural, political, market, and economic contexts. Looking at historical versus actual appetite for change informs the upcoming journey.

You both may be right. However, if your job is to serve the client and help them realize their vision for themselves, the client is right.

Rather than debating the merits of what you believe you know compared to what the client believes they want, meet them where they are.

Consider putting your predisposition(s) to the side and actively listening, learning, and discovering together. Given you've already seen way-point #4 on your way to #10 multiple times, you are equipped to counsel the client on options, priorities, risks, and decisions along the journey.

Get the client to way-point #4 as they desire. And while you're working with them, you may discover they didn't know about #10, didn't believe they could get there, or #4 is actually what they need for now.

Consider the below steps to iteratively discover what is valuable to the client now, soon, and later.

Example Behaviors That Add Lasting Value

What is described below is a purposeful partnership relationship between two parties where discovered and defined value drives decisions. It is a journey composed of goals, options, choices, and the ability to pivot, change, or otherwise re-scope along the way as more information is learned.

  • Ask questions to understand where a client was yesterday, where they are today, and where they want to be tomorrow.
  • Provide observations regarding where they've been, where they seem to be currently, and where they want to go.
  • Provide multiple recommendations (options) to get from way-point #1 to #4 (e.g., 1>2>3>4 OR 1>2>4 OR 1>3>4 OR 1>4).
  • Enable the client to choose what makes the most sense to them according to their culture, politics, timeline, budget, risk appetite, attitude, and aptitude.
  • Journey with the client by planning, achieving, demonstrating, and refactoring the solution together, iteratively (get them to #4).
  • Help the client see and prepare for the future while delivering on their needs today (evaluate with them if #5 and beyond are valuable now, soon, later, or never).

How Do You Know You've Added Value?

  • A 6-month engagement turns into 3.5 years.
  • The client is willing to give you warm introductions to other companies and leaders who may need work.
  • The client is willing to provide public/private references regarding the quality and value of work they received when working with you.
  • The client is willing to stay in touch, contribute to, and/or be involved in other efforts driven by your company even after you've left.

How Do You Get Started?

If you are not sure where to start, consider starting with the below three behaviors and the rest will follow:

Ask questions and then listen

Ask thoughtful, premeditated questions in order to learn. Clarify what you think you heard, then ask more questions to learn more. Favor questions over statements.

Deliver jellybeans not elephants

Practice committing to and delivering frequent, small, iterations of the larger planned deliverable across time. Do not agree to an outcome, disappear for awhile, work in a vacuum, assume nothing changed while you were gone, and return with what you believed was important two months ago. You'll both be surprised (and perhaps disappointed).

Invite change

Frequent, small, iterative deliverables inform the client's understanding of their reality and future. If your job is to help your client become more today than yesterday, then invite, and be prepared for, change as they learn and realize more with each small, iterative, deliverable.

Having a business, client, and revenue is a continuously earned privilege. To be the best at what you do, there will be no rest. Relationships, communication, and delivering value are hard. This article can help you tune your existing program of behavior, or even help you get started.

Challenged by Change Management?

If your teams struggle to pivot and adapt to changes, read my next article, Of Jellybeans and Elephants, which provides a path and new behaviors for your team to adopt and deliver value one jellybean at a time.