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Establishing Credibility When Client Tenure is Greater than your Age

As someone who transitioned into Management Consulting following my undergraduate degree, it is not uncommon for me to find myself in a meeting full of executives who have sat in that same board room since before I was born. In this situation, it becomes a challenge to establish the credibility necessary to obtain buy-in and ultimately drive change.

My experience as a Management Consultant has taught me how to position myself and present my objectives when faced with this difficult scenario. In this environment, it is not enough to identify bottom line opportunity through operational improvements regardless of whether they stem from process, system or behavioural inefficiencies. Even if an idea is backed with sound analysis, it will always be met with skepticism. Depending on the audience, I typically deploy all or some of the following strategies to overcome this age gap. In doing so, I can break down these defensive walls and ensure that I have the executive support necessary to implement sustainable initiatives in an organization:

‘Don’t pretend you are an expert in the industry’

No matter how bright and talented you think you are, you do not have more experience than the person on the other side of the table in this situation. It is important for the client not to feel that their technical expertise is under attack. Focus on process, system and behaviour efficiencies as they pertain to a common industry standard and delay technical advice until a relationship is established.

‘Sell your experiences outside of this project’

The client needs to visualize your value in a non-threatening environment. This means communicating your skills and outlining your key achievements on different projects. Ideally, your experiences should be transferable to the current environment and you should detail previous successes that relate to the client’s current challenges.

‘Guide the conversation to make implementation easier’

Have a mental checklist of what you want to get alignment on in each meeting. Instead of pushing your initiatives directly on the client, frame the conversation so that they arrive at the optimal solutions themselves. This will speed up the design phase and prevent unnecessary push back.

‘Find a common enemy with the client’

Work hard to understand what causes the client grief. Often, executives have little visibility on the front lines and are limited in their ability to investigate employee frustrations and engage in corrective action.  Finding proof that supports their initial suspicions will help turn them from a protestor to a supporter.

Having worked on projects that range from hydrocarbon loss control in the Middle East to insurance operations in Europe, I have had the opportunity to apply these strategies in various settings. Each environment requires a tailored approach but the messages are consistent. Next time you are working with this demographic, don’t rely on detailed analysis to do all the work. Apply these strategies and focus on effectively delivering the content to obtain the support necessary to drive continuous improvement.