What Happened After I Left?!

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In the past few years, this question came up in my mind quite often; how can I see the impact my interventions made in the human systems I have worked with? People have given me ideas like having a follow-up meeting six months later and the like. I was never satisfied. What about two years later, ten years? I know that the goal of our process consulting work is to try to get at the root cause of an issue so that the result of our interventions would create a learning organization that can be independent enough to solve its own future potential problems. Thus, the point is not to be called again in the future, to avoid consultant dependency. But what if I really need to know? I believe in my work and in this method a hundred per cent, but sometimes I almost wish I can work for the organization later on and see how it feels on the inside.

I know that there are people reading this who would think that I am insane! “What do you mean you don’t want the client to call you back? That’s not the point of a ‘business’!” Well then, I guess I am not that kind of business. The one that solely thinks about how to make money now and keep the clients happy and satisfied only to make money later. I do not mean that it is either one extreme or another, but I do want to make those who only think on the one extreme to think about the other for a change. Are we selling hotel rooms; the customer is happy so he will come back? Or are we selling the philosophy of “teach a man how to fish”? Or are we even selling anything at all?

Having the chance to have worked in the corporate, government and non-profit environments as an employee first, made me realize that I always craved feedback. Almost all workplace environments have some sort of performance reviews at least annually; that is definitely not only a “corporate thing” for those of us who thought so. Even beyond workplace environments; the educational system! I know someone who was not satisfied with having straight A’s. Until the day she won a prestigious award, she always felt she was missing that feedback.

How are we supposed to know how well (or poorly) we are doing if we are working solo, as a consultant or any freelance career that allows you to intervene in a human system and then leave, perhaps never to return again. What if you just need that feedback?

I knew someone who told me that she would never be able to work on her own since she is a “feedback freak”. She ended up working for a period of time as an internal consultant, and still felt that she lacked structured feedback. Some of us might think that this might be a personality trait, a lack of experience or even age. “Don’t worry, once you are experienced enough, old enough, confident enough, you won’t need anyone to tell you that you are doing a good job.” I haven’t proved it yet, but I am sure it’s not about any of these factors. Can it be that we are human beings and some need it more than others, but most of us need some form of feedback?

So finally, I am still going to tell you what I think might help those who are in the same situation as I: in need of feedback and curious to know what happened when I left?

Here is what colleagues in the field have suggested. Unfortunately, I was not satisfied with Dr. Google, since it all relates to what I said earlier, feedback so that you can get more business out of them.

This is not an exhaustive list of course (Do I have to say that?!) and I would love to hear more ideas from you.

Ask Directly: Perhaps the most obvious is to ask the clients in the system you have worked with directly. Apart from asking on the last meeting with them, see if they are willing to get together a few months (or years) down the road for an update. Go for conversations if possible (coffee) but if time is an issue, try to send a quick open-ended questionnaire.

Advisory Board: Yes, like a board of directors, you can try to have a board of advisors that are available to meet you regularly and who can not only give you feedback but also ideas and suggestions about potential clients. Meeting regularly does not necessarily mean on a monthly basis; it can be every three or six months.

Past Clients: I do believe that once you get the perfect client, you should do everything possible to maintain the relationship; not for future work, but for future needed feedback. You know, the client that makes you feel good all the time, is open, honest and doesn’t hide his flaws. The ones that admit his mistakes. That is really involved in whatever goal you both share. Yes they exist!! I once had the perfect client and I keep thinking of him from time to time. Should I call? Email? It’s too late now! I would have loved to have him on my advisory board.

Community Office: There is a process consultant in my area that I admire a lot. She rents an office in one of those shared office spaces and tries to get consultants in to rent there as well. Some people would never do such a thing. Having potential “competitors” in the same office space; they will steal the work right?! Wrong; there is actually more benefit in doing that. First, you get to chat about your work, inevitably getting ideas and suggestions from each other. You can end up exchanging feedback if you want. There is also a possibility of getting more work that way; you can work on the same contract or you can refer each other if someone has expertise in one area more than another. Did you ever notice that coffee shops open one next to the other, which creates more business for both? Think win/win. Read about the abundance mentality is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Finally, it feels less lonely for us freelancers.

Finally, all these suggestions revolve around having a community for you to learn and grow. It’s up to you to create that learning community.

Author: Riham Ahmed for Process Inc.

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