Your Office Coach: Newly Minted Consultant Must Learn Expectations Of Unfamiliar Field

By Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service.

Question: After many years in the corporate world, I decided to start my own business and become an independent consultant. For several months, I have been working with a client whom I knew through my previous job. “Barry” asked me to assist him in creating a marketing program for his small company.

Recently, I learned that Barry has hired an employee to do the same work I have been doing. When I confronted him about this, Barry indicated that he values my skills, but feels he needs additional help. He said that if I decided to leave, he would completely understand. This remark seemed very insulting.

Barry knows I’m not interested in a regular job, but his indifference hurts my feelings. It seems as though he only wants the new guy and doesn’t care whether I’m here or not. Am I being too sensitive about this?

Answer: The move from employment to consulting requires a major shift in expectations, so your reaction is not surprising. But while these feelings are perfectly normal, they are not appropriate for your role, so you should be careful about expressing them.

With long-term clients, consultants often become very involved in the business and develop close working relationships. Over time, this can easily begin to feel like a permanent connection or perhaps even a friendship. However, the cold, hard reality is that consulting is always a temporary association.

In this case, Barry has apparently decided to bring certain responsibilities in-house instead of contracting them out. This frequently occurs when tasks which began as consulting projects expand to require full-time attention. Because Barry knows you aren’t available for hire, he found someone else to take the position.

This may feel like a personal betrayal to you, but it’s really just business. As you gain more consulting experience, you will gradually begin to realize that projects begin and end, clients come and go, and competitors sometimes get the work. For a consultant, that’s simply a routine part of the job.

Question: I have had many discussions with one of my employees about her work habits and office relationships. “Abbey” insists that she pays attention to details, yet I often find errors in her work.
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She says she gets along well with her co-workers, but I have observed her being confrontational. As a manager, what do you do when your personality and an employee’s personality just don’t mesh?

Answer: This is a management relationship, not a marriage, so the issue is not whether your personalities “mesh.” The real question is whether Abbey is doing the job she is paid to do. And an equally relevant question is whether you, as her manager, are also earning your paycheck.

If Abbey’s results or relationships are unacceptable, then she represents a performance problem. When confronted with performance problems, managers must establish clear expectations, provide appropriate coaching, and, if nothing changes, apply appropriate consequences. So instead of continuing to ponder Abbey’s personality, you need to start correcting her behavior.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

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