Self-publishing in the form of social media and editing websites has changed the rules of what is said and by whom. In previous years what was said publicly, either verbally or in print, was usually tightly controlled by a very small group of senior management people, often guided by professional PR agency experts. Now the lid is off the can and virtually anyone can at any time post anything they think of, instantly. Social media advocates will point to what they see as the many benefits this has brought. However, the fact that in the past, there was not the technical capability to post instantly meant that what was said could be thought-through, discussed and decided upon.
Social media and website content can pose a risk that can have unintended consequences. Examples of where perhaps posts have been created when they have not been thought through include the area of client confidentiality. In the areas of consultancy and coaching, there are two different approaches which are to talk or not to talk.
To talk about it means sharing even basic information about the fact that consultant ‘x’ is working with, or has worked with client ‘y.’ This can extend to more detailed information, such as “what we did for client ‘y’ was this, and this was the result.”
The alternative approach is to say absolutely nothing. That means not divulging client names and not taking any credit for work done and what has been achieved. In the age of self-publishing and the self-promotion that goes with it, this might seem like a lost opportunity to “put oneself out there.” However, there is a different way to think of this; a way that puts the client front and centre.
As a consultant, the reason that we are actually working on a project is that the client has requested us to do so. That means that they have recognised that they have a problem that needs solving or an opportunity that needs developing and they need some external help. So the initial credit needs to go to them, not us. Next, in order for us as a consultant to understand their problem, we have had to ask many questions. Some of those questions have been deep and intrusive. Good clients understand this and give the time and answer the questions honestly. So again, the credit needs to go to the client. Finally, after much discussion, solutions are agreed upon, and decisions are made. The client then has the responsibility of getting feedback by engaging with stakeholders and ‘selling’ these ideas internally to management and staff and then providing the resources and ongoing commitment to enable the project to get completed.
At all stages of the process, a leader is under scrutiny by those around him or her concerning whether they have made or are making the right decisions or not. As such, it is important that the client ‘owns’ the solutions which they are driving forward. As a consultant, we have had an influence and delivered value in many ways, but it is the client who bears the ultimate responsibility.
Understanding this is the reason why we and some other consultancies and coaches have a policy of strict client confidentiality. Working this way, name dropping social media posts are eliminated, which means that clients are not used and put under pressure to respond to self-promoting posts that name them, their people or their companies.
It is a choice of style, and that choice is whether we see ourselves as the ‘star’ or our client. We place our client front and centre by understanding our client’s pressures. Once we understand them, we have the added sense of purpose of helping them navigate the bumps whilst staying focused on the goal, and we do all this standing stage side, not in the spotlight.