Project Management

Cultivate positive onsite relationships by easing employees' concerns

Employees sometimes feel uncertain about a new IT consultant onsite. Susan Harkins offers ideas about how to alleviate their concerns and form a good working relationship.

 

Your first days onsite of a new project can be challenging, especially if the client doesn't do a great job explaining your presence to the rest of the company. Some employees won't even know you're coming until they meet you for the first time, which can be awkward for everyone.

If you're the catalyst for bad feelings, your technical expertise won't be enough to smooth things over. You'll have to navigate through the tension to nurture a positive relationship with employees who might start out feeling jealous or even worried about how your presence will affect their job.

Here are three possible concerns that employees who are unsure about your true purpose, along with suggestions for how to respond to these feelings.

Am I being replaced?

Imagine the IT manager's fear at having you brought in to (possibly) accomplish what he can't -- and, most likely, at great expense. Perhaps the manager has the expertise but not the time or the resources. Your client just wants the job done and is doing what's best for everyone concerned. Nonetheless, the IT manager might feel threatened.

From the get-go, elicit this manager's advice. Turn this potential enemy into your most important advisor. Meet resistance with gentle persuasion and sincere requests -- don't give this manager busywork to get him out of your hair. Draw him into the project by asking for his insight as often as possible during those first few critical days. Tell him that you need his help (but avoid using the word cooperation at this point).

Be especially mindful of your temporary facilities. Don't let the client displace anyone for you if there's any way around it. If the client offers you a corner office with a view, politely suggest that a cubicle "where the action is" might be more practical. You need a reasonably comfortable area in which to work but avoid perks. Seek out a spot where you can blend in instead of standing out.

Why am I stuck using the old technology?

In-house technicians and developers might be jealous of you. After all, oftentimes, they're stuck supporting the same old boring hardware and software, while you're working with exciting new technologies -- at least, that's what they believe.

Once you're acclimated, seek out in-house talent for advice and suggestions. They're familiar with the obstacles that might undermine your project because they've already encountered them. You don't have to act on anything they say, but even asking for input will promote goodwill, and someone might just offer something helpful. When that happens, be sure to acknowledge the person in some way. For example, you might mention the employee's idea (with appropriate credit) to the head honcho in your daily activity memo or email. If possible, copy the employee on the document. (That's not always possible, so be sensitive to the client's in-house guidelines.) Or, you could mention that you shared his or her idea with the boss, and you're waiting to hear back.

Why isn't anyone asking what I want?

The people that use your solution have some of the best insights, and they're usually glad to articulate what they want and need -- if someone will just ask. Depending on the project, you might hang around while they're working to analyze their current processes. Ask them to make a wish list of what they would like the solution to do for them. Give their feedback serious consideration and, if appropriate, compile a list of suggested spec changes to the project leader or head honcho. The users will appreciate your efforts on their behalf.

Conclusion

Don't let misunderstandings about the work you've been hired to do create a wall between you and the people you need to work with to get the job done. Initially, there's bound to be a little resistance, but with a little understanding, you can break down barriers and work well with your client's employees.

Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

5 comments
biancaluna
biancaluna

These are good tips. I have a few more - don't be afraid to look silly, self depreciation and humility go a long way. Ask for help, don't assume you know everything. Don't use any big IT words like agility, velocity, enterprise strategy and life cycle management in front of the folks at the coal face. Laugh a lot, show appreciation and thank people. And be prepared to get up early when your team is making a change. I once gained friends for life by getting up at 3 in the morning to bring breakfast to a team of techicians working through the night to get a job done in time. Some consultants are their own worst enemy. If however, after a period of time you still meet with hostility, obstruction and sabotage, it might be time to realise that the organisation is not set up to allow you to be successful. And it might be time to get out. Politely and with grace.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... is to help the employees be more productive. Technology doesn't make solutions work, people do. Good article.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Thank you for adding to the discussion, especially the part about getting out -- sometimes, no matter what you do, you're right -- you're not going to succeed. That's the client's problem and you can't make it yours unless you're in a position to actually do something about it, and we rarely are.

ssharkins
ssharkins

It's unfortunate that some clients do so little to prepare their employees for change -- especially the good kind. You can sense the tension in some places, on day one. You just have to reach out and pull them into the project.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Then drink, but don't get drunk on too high a concentration, potent as it is.

Editor's Picks