When I grew up working as a teenager in my father’s independent grocery store, I learned a number of valuable lessons. One was “value every customer as if your paycheck depended on it.'” A second lesson was “take everyone where they are at, regardless of who you think they are.” This has led to a philosophy of honoring each and every client for what they bring to our conversations, even (or especially) if it requires me to look at my own biases, reactions, and limitations, and has been a guiding principle in working across a wide spectrum of client organizations, owners, managers, and employees.
Edgar Schein, one of my mentors whom I frequently quote, offers a model as consultants holding themselves in one of three perspectives – “expert,” “doctor,” or “helper.” While it is fair to say that thanks to my professional training and on-going learning that I can provide expert content at times, that is not the primary mode in my work. And, there are times when I do “diagnose and prescribe” in terms of assessing a culture and making recommendations, but most of the time I am in “helper” mode. This is a way of listening carefully, being connected and compassionate, and being open to the engagement creating change for me as well (whereas few experts and not that many doctors have that same attitude).
Like most of my clients, I subscribe to the multiple bottom line approach, which I define as having four key components: (a.) robust financial sustainability, (b.) providing optimal workplace conditions, (c.) involvement and investment in local communities, and (d.) monitoring and reducing environmental impacts. We must use the positive, driving force of business to aid, not constrain these goals. I don’t just espouse these values – my small Limited Liability Corporation has been Certified by the independent non-profit B Lab as a “B Corp” (for more info on this great organization and the community of B Corps see the “Resources” page.). Hopefully, the world is beginning to appreciate that the short sighted focus on short-term financial profit as all that matters is a dinosaur model in its final throes before extinction.
It is vital for me to “walk my talk” when it comes to exploring new models, practicing innovative methods, and learning from the collected wisdom of others. To stay fresh, competent, and current, I regularly attend professional workshops, seminars and lectures, and meditation retreats. I do research among a wide variety of magazines, books, articles and the Internet. There is also what my wonderful wife Sandy likes to call “eating my way to success.” What she means is that I sure have a heck of a lot of business lunches. While a number of these are legitimate marketing efforts, many are with professional colleagues. Finding out what others are doing in the field, learning how other coaches and business owners are meeting their challenges, and keeping an active sense of community is important to me and my business.
While I speak in general terms about my clients and the work I am doing, I do not disclose the specific content of what my individual or organizational clients share with me outside of the project. I am also clear when I meet with members of an organization how I will balance the need to use the information they share with me, on one hand, with the need to not make negative attributions or play into “taking sides.” Failure to adhere to these core concepts destroys trust and effectiveness.
Living in Vermont (with a state-wide population of approximately 627,000) means that there are times when previous contacts, friendships, and relationships create the need to discuss the parameters of having both professional and other connections. Examples have been former neighbors, referrals from a family member, friends who work at client companies, and executives that serve in a volunteer capacity with others. This can also extend to my friends from national groups when we move into a possible business relationship.
I strive to describe in clear language what I do and what I provide. Services are delineated in both “matching meetings” and in written proposals. If there is confusion, it is addressed at the first opportunity.
This means being trained and experienced to offer the level, depth, and range of services that are promised. For example, I do not provide consultation on the human resources category of salary compensation evaluation, however I could facilitate a discussion or coach an individual on how to start a conversation on the value they bring to the table. I do not weigh in on financial, legal, or other technical specialties for which I am not competent.
If there is a situation that creates even the appearance of a conflict of interest it is important to ascertain at the first opportunity how the conflict may exist, what the implications are, and what remedies are required.
If at any time a client feels the need to discuss or question my methods, techniques, or practices, I will engage in this conversation without defensiveness. I invite feedback about my process and results in both spontaneous and structured ways.
Should I be unable for personal, medical, or psychological reasons to adequately perform my professional services in a competent way, then I am required to seek consultation or evaluation of my capabilities, and if necessary, make other arrangements for transfer or termination of services.
I believe it is vital in a good working relationship to clearly communicate the price, terms, and methods of how my services are priced, invoiced, and paid. While I am very fortunate that I have never been “stiffed” there have been times when a dropped ball here or there needs to be picked up – either on the part of my Accounts Receivable department (yeah, that’s still me!) or on the client’s end. Money just needs to be clean energy all around.
One dictionary defines “collusion” as “secret cooperation between people in order to do something illegal or underhanded.” This will not be tolerated under any circumstances.
There are almost always some elements of stress present in the organization when the initial contacts and discussions about engaging Business Culture Consultants begin. While some of this stress is positive (rapid company growth, receiving a significant capacity-building grant, opening a new location), much of the tension has to do with built-up emotions, conflicts, or lack of clarity. While it is important to bring an appropriate level of seriousness to workplace change, part of what I bring is a sense of “dancing lightly.” I believe it’s important to balance the tough stuff with appropriate humor and fun to keep the work from getting heavy or boring. If we’re not smiling or laughing at points along the way, we’re in need of an adjustment!
I am committed to a reasonably balanced lifestyle, which includes time with my wife, family, and friends; deep immersion into making music; an active relationship with the earth through time in nature; and honoring the food I eat through organic gardening and purchasing; and the cleansing ritual of the Finnish sauna. I also take multiple weeks of vacation per year, including one seven-day period when I do not check newspapers, TV, the Internet, voice mail, or e-mail. It is remarkable how relaxed a human being can be when one is not “on alert” scanning for incoming information. A weeklong diet of “no electrons” does me good as well, to disconnect from our helpful but entangling technology that can be our friend or our jailer. I strongly encourage you to do the same.
It is my belief that there is a universal life force that connects all elements of this universe without separateness. This is most evident in nature, where the timeless patterns of birth, growth, adaptation, and death take place without fault or judgment. It is my goal to continually remind myself that this powerful source of positive energy is always available for me and the people that I work with, and that it is this energy, not ego or power or money, that produces the greatest good. This “job” of mine is simply part of a life-long unfolding of the pattern that constitutes the core of Self. When I garden, I am always amazed that the small round seed of broccoli, for example, that I hold in the palm of my hand has all the information encoded within to produce the full potential of the plant, given optimal conditions. In this work I strive to find those optimal conditions for my clients and myself that will allow these deeper patterns of potential and connection to be brought into awareness, observed, supported, and realized. To me, that is how Spirit manifests itself in caring, effective, and rewarding work.