Getting Trapped in Your Client’s Culture
Getting Trapped in Your Client’s Culture

One of the biggest traps you can walk into as a consultant is getting sucked into your client’s culture.  Especially if it is somewhat dysfunctional (as many are, otherwise why would they need us?) we can find our tolerance slowly rising until at some point we are colluding with them.

How do we get “bought in?”  Initially we probably challenge their culture because it is getting in the way of their success, or is maybe even what they asked us to do.  But as time goes by and we get repeat business, a “cultural haze” may set in.  We may start understanding why they can’t do such and such; find ourselves making excuses for them; and forgiving them for their culture as if they were the victims of it.  Bingo!  We are now colluding with them.

It takes real courage to identify and deal with this straight up, both for yourself as well as the client.  As a consultant, this client might have become an important part of your business portfolio – and rocking the boat may mean losing business. If you don’t address this when it starts happening however, the consequences may be worse!

I had an experience with this about 20 years ago when working with a large organization.  Over a four-year time frame I worked my way across various departments, getting more and more frustrated with what I was noticing and called their “bus stop” culture.  In any given meeting, there would be a different group of participants every thirty minutes.  There were always people coming in late and people leaving early, regardless of the agenda or the objective.

Decision-making became convoluted as a result, because if a decision WAS made, it always had to be revisited, which happened over and over again. Ground rules, group interventions, and leadership escalation did nothing to ease the “bus stop,” because it was all about power and influence.  The more important you were, the less likely you were to participate in an entire meeting, and the more insistent you were that your agreement be secured before a decision was made.

I knew I was getting burned out with this client, but agreed to take one more job – a five-month facilitation effort with a major project, nice money.  I did the best I could in facilitating this “bus stop” culture to make progress and develop a product.  The last session was dedicated to finalizing the product that 20+ people had worked on for nearly half a year.  We were stopped cold in our tracks when one of the participants, who had not shown up since the first workshop, said she did not agree with the resulting work product and would fight its adoption.

I just lost it! I lambasted the poor woman for opening her mouth and ranted that I had never worked in such a dysfunctional organization!  I openly vowed never to work with them again.  My co-facilitator was racing across the room to drag me out, but it was too late.  I was later called on to apologize publicly, which I did.

Whew! This was not my finest moment. But I learned something important that day – that I can’t just stuff my feelings about an organization’s culture, make nice and do the work.  I have to find a way to address the dysfunctions with them, even if it means lost business.

This lets me live and work with greater integrity, and is less damaging in the long run for me and for my clients!

Cathy Perme is the co-owner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC.

Fizz by Cathy Perme

Buy Fizz! on Amazon

Buy FIZZ on Amazon Audio

Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant author Cathy Perme also wrote Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us, released by Wisdom Editions in 2017.

rich set of suggestions
Cathy's marketing and selling background makes for a rich set of suggestions for getting business and building one’s brand. I think it is rare ...
...Read More
Barbara A Tuckner
Cathy's marketing and selling background makes for a rich set of suggestions for getting business and building one’s brand. I think it is rare for an independent consultant to "give away" so much of their business engine and expertise. That adds up to a heap of generosity; something that is remarkable in the "friendly" competitive consulting world.
rich set of suggestions
Barbara A Tuckner
down to earth and practical
Down-to-earth, practical, and provides plenty of tools to use to develop your independent consulting business. Cathy takes a constructive look at how to succeed by ...
...Read More
Meghan Jost
Down-to-earth, practical, and provides plenty of tools to use to develop your independent consulting business. Cathy takes a constructive look at how to succeed by intelligently marketing yourself, engaging others, and keeping it all in balance with your personal life.
down to earth and practical
Meghan Jost
dozens of ideas
Cathy gives dozens of ideas about networking effectively, making sales calls and using social media and she doesn’t minimize the effort that has to ...
...Read More
NES
Cathy gives dozens of ideas about networking effectively, making sales calls and using social media and she doesn’t minimize the effort that has to go into it. It’s a reality check for anyone who thinks they can just hang up their shingle and become a consultant, but a great guide for anyone who’s willing to put in the hard work to be a success.
dozens of ideas
NES
from a to z
Cathy will take you from point A to Z on how to successfully become an independent consultant.
Charles Bever
Cathy will take you from point A to Z on how to successfully become an independent consultant.
from a to z
Charles Bever
methodical steps
For those that take the leap, Cathy's methodical steps will surely be helpful in achieving success.
Kevin Walsh
For those that take the leap, Cathy's methodical steps will surely be helpful in achieving success.
methodical steps
Kevin Walsh
recommend to anyone
I recommend to anyone starting a business.
Patricia Jayne Keefer
I recommend to anyone starting a business.
recommend to anyone
Patricia Jayne Keefer
years of lessons
Cathy shares years of lessons and a broad breadth of practical consulting and business experience in a very clear and engaging guide for starting and ...
...Read More
Ted Clark
Cathy shares years of lessons and a broad breadth of practical consulting and business experience in a very clear and engaging guide for starting and developing a successful consulting company. Highly recommended.
years of lessons
Ted Clark
I appreciate Cathy sharing
I appreciate Cathy sharing what she’s learned over the past 30 years about how to succeed as an independent consultant. Her advice is straight forward, ...
...Read More
Amy Brown
I appreciate Cathy sharing what she’s learned over the past 30 years about how to succeed as an independent consultant. Her advice is straight forward, thoughtful, organized, and easy to follow.
I appreciate Cathy sharing
Amy Brown
Learning Experience Face
This has been a truly learning experience and has helped me grow both personally and professionally.
Anonymous
This has been a truly learning experience and has helped me grow both personally and professionally.
Learning Experience Face
Anonymous
drove to closure horse
Took a very complicated and dynamic set of realities and personalities, surfaced underlying issues, facilitated a robust and healthy interaction, and drove the process to ...
...Read More
Anonymous
Took a very complicated and dynamic set of realities and personalities, surfaced underlying issues, facilitated a robust and healthy interaction, and drove the process to closure and action.
drove to closure horse
Anonymous

Cathy Perme