A veteran consultant who also happened to have spent multiple tours in Vietnam once gave me a sage piece of advice over a morning java that I’ve often reflected upon both when I have implemented it correctly or when I have painfully to neglected to: “Once your boots hit the ground, the first order of business is to figure out; What’s your deal?” In Vietnam, not figuring out the real deal in terms of your situation was extremely hazardous to your health and those around you, he explained. “Textbooks, training and boot camps are one thing, but you need to acclimate and learn fast once your boots hit the ground in a combat zone and each one is different.”
This seasoned consultant went on to explain how he survived and succeeded in his tours in Vietnam was at least in part due to him learning what the deal was- quickly. He similarly had survived the complex, often confusing, and rapid-paced consulting world for over 25 years using many of the same skills. He defined “the deal” to mean what the real situation, tactics, players, and objectives really are and that typically there is a delta between the real deal and the stated deal. Our job is to find out how big a delta that is, manage to it, and proceed on the correct course in the correct manner.
So, you’ve landed a new consulting assignment or perhaps a new job with a new firm or even a new role within your current enterprise but in a different organization. How do you find out “what’s your deal?” You need to find out what it is, where and how to add value, who the players are, and how to do it-fast!
1) Open your eyes: The first days on the job or assignment are key to observe how people behave. What do they say or left unsaid? How do they say it? Are they blunt or indirect? How do they dress? When do they show up to work and when do they leave? Do they work through lunch or go out? Observe, take note, and adjust accordingly.
2) Open your ears: Listening is different than hearing. Practice listening to what people are saying and what they really mean. What’s between the lines? What does the body language say? Ask thoughtful questions and then listen carefully. Document what you learn and make course corrections.
3) Open your mind: Just because this new group does things differently from our own experiences, don’t immediately judge, diminish, or be critical. Take time to learn why they do it that way and the pros and cons before offering advice or input. The San Antonio Spurs do things differently from the Dallas Mavericks or Miami Heat though all three are great organizations, have great players and coaches, and all have won recent championships.
4) Open your door: Don’t isolate yourself. Keep an open door mentality and literally and take the initiative to respectfully walk through other’s doors. You can’t learn the deal or succeed if you stay in a tower, isolated from others. Learning the deal will come as much if not more from informal dialogue and conversations over coffees and lunches than org charts and documents. Keep an open door to go along with the open mind.
Once your boots hit the ground the first order of business is to figure out; What’s your deal? That is a key not only to initial survival, but a key to adding immediate and long term value to our respective organizations.