How to deal with a client who won’t do what you want

Clients are usually completely lovely, of course. And by and large, the employers who choose to engage an HR consultant are the ones who genuinely want to do the right thing by their workforce, and the simple fact that they are choosing to pay for a consultant usually means they are open to advice and will follow it. Otherwise what’s the point?!

But occasionally you get one who just won’t do what you want them to do, either as a one-off or persistently. So what can you do about it? Here are some questions to ask yourself if this is happening:

Are you being clear about what’s needed?

Sometimes they may not have understood clearly what you think they should be doing, so check you have outlined everything clearly.

Are your expectations realistic?

Consider whether your client is actually ‘ready’ to do what you want them to do. This applies mainly when it comes to proactive changes in how they manage staff, cultural shifts or new initiatives. They are currently at point A, you know things would be much better if they were at point F. But that might be just too big a jump. Sometimes it’s about baby steps towards what you think they need. Baby steps are more likely to be followed, and bigger improvements will follow. Small improvements managers will actually do will be longer-lasting, more authentic, and your advice will be more credible as they’ll see a difference and be open to more. Asking for a big jump is more likely to fail altogether, which is no good for anyone.

Are you delivering your advice in a way they will best receive it?

Clients are all different and you need to work out under what circumstances your particular client is most receptive to advice. Do they read the first line of an email and either skim or ignore the rest? Do they listen more if it’s delivered in a phone call rather than an email? Adapt how you deliver advice to ensure it is received loud and clear.

Are you explaining why you are advising something?

The benefits of what you’re suggesting might be obvious to you, but maybe the client doesn’t see that, so is not prioritising it. Make sure you are clear why you are advising them to take a particular course.

Are you painting a picture?

It’s not just about explaining why, but painting a picture for them – how will their life be better if they do what you want them to do? How will it be worse if they don’t. Help them visualise those things and they’ll be more likely to follow your advice.

Is it time to step away?

Sometimes a client diverges from your recommendation to such a degree that you feel compromised. Either because they consistently ignore your advice, or because the path they are proposing in respect of a particular scenario is not one you can support. Ditching a client is ok to do, and sometimes it’s necessary. Spend your energy elsewhere!

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