“What are your most significant takeaways after being in consulting that long?”
Last week Kaiser Associates Strategic Communications celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary of its founding. When I mentioned this to Rachel and Hazel—office neighbors and frequent collaborators—Hazel asked, “What are your most significant takeaways after being in consulting that long?”
She caught me off guard and I had to take a day to think about it (not to mention continue fulfilling my clients’ expectations in one of my busiest periods in the last Quarter Century. Waking up in the wee hours last night the answer came to me: my Core Values.
Yes, I know it sounds cliché and too self-help business bookish, but indeed the core values I drafted a few years ago to keep us focused worked then and are still valid guideposts today. They are:
- DO THE RIGHT THING. Simple, right? Not necessarily. There are many times in our day-to-day business lives where we are confronted with difficult business and personal life decisions. This simple phrase has worked for us every time and kept Kaiser Associates’ brand ID intact as a firm that does well by doing good.
- WORK ONLY WITH CLIENTS WHOSE VALUES AND INTERESTS ARE CONSISTENT WITH OUR OWN.
Also simple but it took me longer to learn this. The flip side of the above, this now helps us avoid taking on clients with whom we don’t always agree. This inevitably led to less or no profitability and the unpleasantness of working closely on issues and tasks that we do not find rewarding. The end result? Usually a fast ending of the work and often a lack of profitability. Today I think of it now as work only with clients that we like.
- FOCUS ON PROVIDING VALUE TO OUR CLIENTS.
If we cannot provide value a consulting relationship can never work. On every assignment, no matter how challenging and time consuming, our first and only question remains “What value can we bring to the task at hand?” A second more important question is “What extra value can we add?”
- CONTINUALLY CHALLENGE OUR CLIENTS’ AND OUR OWN THINKING.
Related to the second question above, we always look for ways to challenge our own and our clients’ assumptions. Not doing so just makes us a vendor playing back to clients what we think they want to hear. A consultant’s primary role is to add value and find solutions. Looking at situations from outside we sometimes need to find the courage to tell our clients things they may not want to hear. Failing to do so is failing our duty and value to them.
- WORK WITH CLIENTS WHO OFFER AN OPPORTUNITY FOR FINANCIAL GROWTH.
This one I often find challenging. Many if not most of the engagements we take on we do so out of a love for the cause; an intellectual interest in the subject matter; and the thrill of doing great work while solving problems. But as my wife often reminds me, one cannot save the world by underselling or giving away the value one creates. I am still working on this one.
- HAVE FUN.
If it weren’t fun I would not have spent twenty-five years doing it. I could have done far better working for a large corporation or marketing agency, making more money and taking far less risk. By limiting the work and clients at Kaiser Associates to those that create an ever present sense of fun and enjoyment we can do better work, going home at night tired from doing a great job and waking up the next morning eager to do it again.
Yes, Twenty-five years is a very long time for a small entrepreneurial company. But this morning I started the first day of the next twenty-five and cannot wait to move ahead and see what they hold in store.
Kaiser Associates Strategic Communications
Kaiser Associates, founded in 1991, provides strategic communications, public affairs, and crisis management consulting to clients in life sciences and health care; education; non-profits; and selected other categories.