By Diederik Prakke
We will meet the impatience of ourselves and others, if we refuse to ignore inconvenient truth and refuse to over-promise.
I write quite some tenders and I often struggle: How bluntly shall I say that (as usual) the project seems to make some (d)illusory assumptions as to how lasting change works? If I win by sweet talking, clients who don’t believe what I believe will select my proposal, and we are in for a rough ride, full of predictable “surprises”. On the other hand: Tenders exist for the very reason that clients miss-assess what it takes to achieve change – else they would have done it already! From that point of view, tendering is merely about getting in. The actual assignment will be about finding a path and step by step checking whether the client is willing to pay the price.
Very often the answer will be:
“Well if it takes that much effort, let’s not climb Mount Everest but just roam around a little and then pretend that we went up, or make up a dramatic story that we were completely unexpectedly attacked by yeti’s”.
When the first hurdles come, many clients are happy to settle for less than what I go for, and less than the objective statement in the ToR. “OK, forget about a real culture change, just draft a code of conduct” (which everybody knows to have no impact and may be used as a stick to beat). Or: “I don’t care about real performance – I just want to show the donor that we do annual staff assessments” (even though they were already called “the bloodletting practice of today” by Stephen Covey).
“Impact is too hard, just give me some meaningless indicators we can use to make graphs”.
I so recognize what you write about clients who show less actual commitment than we agreed and hoped for. This is how we are co-responsible or co-dependent:
- Probably we have done wishful thinking: We sensed and got signals that the client wasn’t on board, but we couldn’t prove it, ignored it, explained them away, and were over-eager to proceed.
- Certainly we avoided the uncomfortable hassle of cross-checking and double-checking. Likely we avoided fully telling the expected and possible hurdles, and checking whether the the client would proceed if they would indeed arise. We may tell ourselves that it’s not our fault as we said the right things, but we should have checked what the client understood and genuinely agreed to.
- And we accepted leading the process, where we should have stayed back for the client to be the public face of the change, and to commit himself publicly and unambiguously to purpose and process.
- We may also refuse to be realistic: While we want to achieve the change, the client bears the risk. While we hate aborting the effort, maybe the client takes responsibility by doing so. Or maybe he is under levels of board, political and donor pressures that would give us nightmares.
And last but not least: Rather than playing victim and gossiping with our colleagues about this cunning client, do we confront this client that he breaks his commitment to his staff and to you? Often an honest talk can repair what we tell ourselves is the final sign of deception by the client. Here the issue of daring comes back: Yes, it pisses us off that the client isn’t on the same page – but do we dare to discuss it openly?
Needless to say: I know all these pitfalls from practicing them.
My name is Diederik Prakke. I have over 20 years of experience, first as an engineer and now as a leadership trainer, consultant and coach with governments, universities, non-profits and businesses. I have traveled extensively: 15 years I lived and worked in Bhutan, Albania, Nepal and Vietnam, and carried out assignments in twenty more countries. I love to train and coach people and organizations in their worldtrip to find their heart enriched and surprised and to follow it. In my backpack I carry some nice experiences with:
Wageningen Masters in water management and non-western sociology
Three-year degree and continuing at Phoenix Opleidingen in Utrecht. Central to these courses are TA, NLP and systemic constellations, based on the work of Bert Hellinger
More than 20 years I am studying and I meditating at Shambhala, an international community of practitioners of meditation, which individual and social transformation are combined.
I was also trained in The Daring Way, the work of Brené Brown about vulnerability, shame and courage and in Theory U, the approach of MIT professor Otto Scharmer
I love mountains, silence and music. I have been married for 14 years and father of two children.
What others say about Diederik: My training is always fun. With Diederik training is a party.