In an ideal world, executives would hire consultants to help their companies maximize their opportunities.

However, we don’t live in an ideal world — we live in the real world.

And one of the reasons consultants get hired is so the client can avoid getting fired.

You might be wondering how this relates to you.

Because the #1 way to build a relationship with a senior client is to care about whatever your client cares about. Not only do you want to care about the same things, you want to guide your work to be responsive to the client’s #1 concerns.

Sometimes, your hands are tied and you don’t have the capacity to work on issues that are outside of the “scope” of your project.

In these cases, just connecting the work you are doing to these concerns (and showing how they are related for better or for worse) is perceived as valuable.

In terms of specific roles, different C-level executives worry about different things.

This was the topic of an Apex Alliance monthly conference call.  I explained the different C-level roles and what each person typically cares about.

For example, I am writing this post from the airport where Alaska Airlines (the only major airline with a hub in Seattle) had a computer system outage.  And all flights across the United States were not allowed to fly for a period of a few hours.

The system that failed was the flight management system — the one that tells pilots when to fly, what routes to take, and when.

An announcement was made that, due to the system outage, these flights were being planned manually with a paper, pen and a calculator.

This is not exactly very reassuring.

If you want to know what CIO’s (Chief Information Officers) worry about, this is what they worry about the most — a high-profile system failure.

It gets worse.

The flight status boards in the airport are showing incorrect data.  It’s not that the screens are blank. It’s the flight times and gates shown on the board are all wrong.

And after three gate changes in 30 minutes earlier this morning, I can assure you, this is a problem for passengers who are sprinting from one end of the airport to another.

This issue of the entire airline basically being unable to function for several hours (note: none of the other airlines are having this problem) will most certainly be discussed at the next board meeting.

The CIO is wondering if he or she will have a job next week.  I certainly have my vote… as do all the customer service employees at Alaska who are having to apologize to thousands of travelers.  Not to mention the tens of thousands of passengers.

But wait, there’s more.

Because the delay ran more than an hour, the system hit a tipping point where it is not possible to reschedule all the planes, crews, and fuel in time to run all the flights.

There are now too many conflicts.

So, they’ve started canceling flights — including mine.

This is a nightmare scenario for all of us.

Now, why should you care?

Because the next time you are asking the CIO for something, just remember that, in the back of his or her mind, all he or she is thinking about is whether or not whatever you propose will create an outage risk.

So, when you propose a new strategy focusing on a new market segment (but requires a total revamp of the technology systems to handle this change), the CIO is thinking whether this is doable, if downtime will be required, and if this business change creates instability in the systems.

When you ask for the CIO’s top two or three key staff members to work on a team you are leading, the CIO is wondering if doing so will create more risk… make that nightmare scenario more likely to happen (or less likely to be managed quickly) if top leaders are focused on other things.

The reason I tell you this is because you come across as tone-deaf and as someone who just “does not get it” when you don’t understand (or even worse, misunderstand) the context in which the CIO operates in.

If you are able to proactively acknowledge these concerns, reinforce them as legitimate concerns, and then make your request anyway (perhaps with some compromises), you will win over a senior client as an ally.

What does any of this have to do with problem solving, frameworks, and analysis?

Absolutely nothing.

What it does have to do with is being successful in consulting… in the real world.

It is these subtle nuanced things that, in aggregate, make an enormous difference in whether you succeed or fail in consulting on the job. It is also these many things that are the focus of my How to Succeed in Management Consulting program.

If you’ve been paying attention to my articles on doing well once you’re on the job, you will notice how much attention I devote (and encourage you to devote) to the so-called “little things.”

It may seem like overkill, but everything I suggest I do for a reason. It’s because these little things, in aggregate, are quite important.

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