Yes, But What Do You Do?

03/09/16

During a recent internal meeting, my illustrious colleague, Sabrina Cowden, alluded to our work as management consultants as being the grout between the tiles. It certainly doesn’t sound glamorous, and we all laughed a knowing laugh, but the analogy struck a chord with me. Wow! I thought, I finally have a way to explain to my friends and family what Milepost actually does. Hear me out. Tile Grout: Its function is to turn a collection of disconnected pieces into a uniform structure, to hold things together and to fill the gaps. All of a sudden, the grayish substance shoved into the crevices of your bathroom floor seems a lot more important and valuable.

The analogy was born out of a conversation we were having about a client project moving into a new phase. Milepost was vital during the project’s program design and initial implementation phases, but this baby bird had wings now and it was soaring away from the nest. We were left asking ourselves if we still had a role. If so, what would or should that role look like? That’s when Sabrina spoke up with her grout analogy. Though I’ve only been with Milepost for a little over a year and half, I’ve had the chance to be involved with a number of projects and listen to other project managers and consultants discuss how they manage shifting work streams, roles and expectations. Despite our well-planned, intentional program design and sustainability assessment processes, quantifying our value inevitably feels squishy when we try to address all the intangibles we provide in addition to our rockin’ research, program design and communications deliverables (the lovely, well-constructed tiles soaking up all the attention). How do you measure the ability to keep small teams of people spread across the country engaged and working together on a time-sensitive project? It seems trivial to tout our consistency in sending out agendas in advance, taking concise notes, and following up with clearly delineated action items. Where are the statistics around our staff’s knack for reading people and smoothing ruffled feathers caused by territoriality? There isn’t a checkbox for strong interpersonal skills on RFPs. Is it appropriate to add “provides translation services for engineers” to our proposals? No matter how true (and prized) it might be, the answer is no.

Now, you might be thinking, if you were so great at all those things, you wouldn’t need to justify your continued role with your clients – they’d be begging you to stick around. Maybe you’re right, but I think it’s more likely that our clients and partners, like the average bathroom frequenter, occasionally take the grout a bit for granted. The tile is so organized and orderly, who notices the gray matter working really hard to keep it in place and filling in the gaps so that the tile can shine? Maybe that’s why, even when a project is moving into a new phase where our services don’t necessarily follow, our clients end up calling us up again when they embark on a new adventure. Now, there’s a statistic we do have: 87% of Milepost’s work in 2015 was from return clients. Here’s to appreciating your grout!

Ashley England
Ashley England

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