The Art of Consulting – a word to our young surveyors
Consulting is an art – an expression of creative and beautiful works of substance – leading to an overall great experience for a client and ultimately something good for the community.
An article by Leo Bateman – Operations Manager – Urban Development Survey
Consulting allows us to offer our expertise to clients and connect with a diversity of people, including some awesome and inspiring people, that we would otherwise not meet. In this respect, the job of consulting is very enriching and balanced. It also requires the complete skill set, including knowledge, analytical skills, imagination, courage to express ideas, empathy, listening skills and a high level of communication skills (including powers of persuasion). It’s important that we (our profession) value our services and take pride in the huge benefit we can provide to our clients and the community through our work.
It’s important to really care about the work we do in servicing our clients. This “care factor” is essential to the culture of a consulting business. The bigger picture is to also care about our industry and how it serves the community. In our work, we can make a difference to how people live their lives now and in the future. I look around everywhere in our city and see examples of my work and it makes me feel good. The same applies to all surveyors, there is so much we can take pride in as a profession.
Even if you are only starting your career, you should never feel “too green” to engage in consulting – just begin slowly and work up, have a focus on how you can continually improve your consulting skills and customer service. The continuum of learning has no end. The aim of consulting is to implement an innovative solution to meet or exceed client expectations. Be empowered to express your ideas – consult with integrity, intelligence and energy and the client will appreciate your efforts.
At my professional practice interview with the Surveyors Board years ago, I was asked if I felt there were any areas in my training where I was found wanting. I knew that I was a bit undercooked in client contact. “Yes, I haven’t had a huge amount of experience in consulting to clients” I answered. I was registered as a Licensed Surveyor that day but I was asked to return in six months to demonstrate how this gap had been rectified. Some would say that I should have stayed silent, but I think it’s important to know what you don’t know, and not feel inadequate about admitting any weakness you may have.
Fear may be a factor in holding young professionals back – fear of lack of knowledge and fear of failure. We can learn more from our failures in life than successes, so we need a “glass half full” attitude with this one, we need to overcome fear. To overcome any fear, my suggestion is that you go to work with positivity of purpose (to do good work) and have true gratitude for the opportunities your clients provide. Have all your focus directed to the needs of your clients, their belief in you, and your desire to deliver.
What are the core values of your business? By way of example, in our business, the core values are relationships, expertise and solutions. Understand what the values are in your business and make sure that your own personal values are in alignment. The first step to developing your consulting abilities, is to be in the right supportive environment. A good cultural fit of an individual to an organisation is essential for an individual to do well. How can I position myself to learn the art of consulting? One way is to put your hand up every time your business shouts out for someone to step up and try something new and challenging. At first, it may seem daunting, but each time you put yourself outside your comfort zone and succeed, you will earn respect from others and gain confidence. Your confidence goes up and down, depending on how you feel on the day, but your self-belief, based on your core values, should remain constant. Everybody enjoys a confidence booster every now and again. Your clients, your managers, your peers, and your competitors can give you this boost. Include consulting as an integral part of your role as a surveyor.
The golden rule of consulting is to listen to your clients. Make sure that you clearly understand what your clients are asking for and why they need it. Respond with a “reverse brief” either verbally or in writing to confirm your understanding of their requirements. Some clients are experienced other are not, take this into account. Take questions on notice, don’t feel obliged to have answers for everything. Think of ways to add value to your work, and offer this to your client – this is consulting! As a young professional, a senior surveyor should accompany you when attending client meetings. This is essential as your work and advice is the springboard for others to invest time and money on, and it must be spot on. If you are involved in a big project, ask to be involved in the consultant team meetings whenever possible. Ask to be involved in the preparation for the meetings, understand what the client’s goals are and what the game plan will be. Understand that preparing for meetings is essential for effective consulting.
The success of consultant team meetings relies on all consultants actively connecting. The team must understand the client’s commercial goals, constraints, timing, and project plan. All players in the team must respect each other’s abilities and be willing to support each other. This leads to more seamless, collaborative, and cohesive team work.
We can look at examples of how it’s not done well to learn how it can be done better. I’ve often been frustrated by other consultants producing work with no regard as to how it will affect my work, and ultimately slow the delivery down. It’s very disappointing when there has been no thought on the part of another consultant changing their design for instance and not communicating the change. This is just a minor example just to illustrate the importance of having a whole of team mindset, as opposed to a discipline based mindset, when part of a consultant team. A client in this environment doesn’t just want to see champion individuals on the team doing a great job in their own disciplines. What the client wants to see is the team working together and having a shared passion for success. The lesson here is to be considerate of others and be a good communicator for the good of the project.
Subdivision projects of today, through their complexity, can test the boundaries of current legislation and policy. When this happens, the consultant team will need to either find a creative solution that falls within the current boundaries or alternatively look at the possibility of an “out of policy” solution. To achieve an outcome under these circumstances a consultant team must stand together as the pragmatic optimist on behalf of the client. The team must understand the client’s commercial drivers and think outside the square for the right solution. In the case of a complex Plan of Subdivision, the Licensed Surveyor’s role is to lead the conversation regarding all the necessary inputs from experts required to inform the structure of the plan, and have ownership and pride in the outcome. You will never be satisfied in your consulting unless you know in your heart you have achieved the right outcome. In today’s world, you need all the input you can get to ensure you have an outcome that ticks all the boxes, most importantly the one that delivers the best commercial outcome for the client. The client will give the final approval and make the decision to proceed. The client takes the risk based on the expert advice of the consultant team.
To the young surveyor, there is something you can do right now. That is, you can focus on being client centric and learn how to control costs. This is about always knowing who your client is, putting them first and delivering good work to them, on time and on budget. This will assist you in developing your customer service and consulting abilities. Get involved in the initial pricing of jobs. Learn how to put together a fee proposal. State what’s included and what’s not included in the scope. Work out a price and make it clear that anything outside the scope will be subject to a variation. Take this as an opportunity to consult with your clients, discuss the proposal and ensure everything is clearly understood. Demonstrate how you can add value to the work without much additional cost, if any. When undertaking the work, remember that the meter is running, so try to be efficient. Have a clear project plan and stick to the plan. This will include a field budget, office budget and delivery date. Give your client progress updates throughout this course of the work. Your client should not have to call you for an update. Focus on getting the job done right as your priority, but try hard to deliver on time and on budget, don’t look for reasons to justify why deadlines are missed or budgets blown. If you hit a snag, speak up early. Get these basic elements right, all the time, and you will feel good about yourself.
Consulting is challenging but it certainly can be rewarding in many ways. Learn how to do it well. More power to you!