Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!

Consultants Connection, May 2010

By: Wes Trochlil

Summary: It's up to consultants to decide when not doing anything or not getting a potential project is the right call for an association or business. Let your ethics guide you to ensure that the project has clear objectives and measurable outcomes to help the client.

I was meeting with a potential client recently to discuss how I might help with data management strategy. During the discussion, he commented along these lines: "We've been working hard on these issues. There's always a lot of work being done." My response was: "Yes, but is it the right kind of work? Just because you're in motion doesn't mean you're doing the right things."

He replied: "Doing something is better than doing nothing." Not true. Sometimes it's better to just stand there and not do anything. (In reality, it's usually better to redirect the resources.)

As consultants to associations, sometimes it is incumbent upon us to tell our clients (or potential clients) that it's better to do nothing than to do something, even if that means turning business away. Consultants are obligated to improve the client's condition. If we're working for work's sake (and taking our client's money), we're not really serving the client's best interest, nor are we likely to improve the client's condition.

As I've written in other places, every decision we make is a tradeoff. When we choose to do something, we're making a trade for something else. Usually the trade is that we're putting people and resources to work on something in place of something else. So if doing something is better than doing nothing, what we're really saying is doing this is better than doing that.

So how do we know when a client should just stand there and not do anything? It's a matter of objectives and measures.

The client must have clear objectives, for example: What is it trying to accomplish? It also needs clear measures to know whether it has accomplished what it set out to do. In the case above, the objectives were unclear, there were no real measures of success, and thus "doing anything" probably was not time spent wisely. In this case, just standing there was probably better than doing something.

So the next time your client says, "We have to do something!" make sure you have clear objectives and measures before you put yourself and others to work.

Sometimes it is better just to stand there.

Wes Trochlil founded Effective Database Management, LLC, in Hamilton, Virginia