Friday, April 08, 2011

Hypothetical Crucial Confrontations

Every Utilization Focused Evaluator knows: If an evaluation deliverable is submitted late, it can potentially totally negate the reason for doing the evaluation in the first place. If the intended user does not have the information at his/her disposal when the time for the intended use comes, you have a disaster.

Late delivery and a whole range of unpleasant consequences can be prevented, if you have the skill of holding people accountable for broken promises along the way. I find holding my team accountable is relatively easy, but holding a client accountable for broken commitments, is quite a different ballgame- A very unpleasant and daunting one!

Imagine the following totally hypothetical* example: You are working with a client who commits to giving feedback on deliverables by a certain date, and by the time you get to that date, there is no feedback. Or no consequential feedback. Then you try to get sign-off on deliverables, but a second and third round of comments follow, and it takes forever to move along. Hypothetically speaking, it could take you 8 months to get sign off on one deliverable!

It could be really difficult to work effectively with such a (hypotehtical) client, and you may start to doubt your own ability to execute. I cringe if I look at it from the hypothetical client's perspective - and I'm not sure what this must look like to a hypothetical innocent bystander.

Evaluation team leaders need to be able to hold their clients accountable for broken commitments, else the team may be heading for a deep and dark place where everyone just ends up hating working together.

I'm reading a book called "Crucial Confrontations" on exactly this topic. It is packed with so many interesting concepts. I can highly recommend it. See: (Also available on Kindle!)

The book has taught me to be a little bit more discerning about the actual problem that needs to be addressed (amongst other things). Who would've thought that what seems like a simple (hypothetical) problem can actually be so very complex?

1) If the problem is a single instance of not receiving feedback all you need to do is follow up with the client until he / she has met his / her commitment. Getting the feedback once, means the problem is resolved.

2) If the problem is a pattern of broken commitments, just dogging the client until he/ she provides feedback will probably only resolve the problem until the next round of feedback is due. Perhaps the process of feedback and signoff should be changed, to break this pattern?

3) But the problem may be a relationship problem. If the client is in a difficult position in his / her organization he / she may be unable to act quickly / definitively / at all. No amount of process change will solve this quandary. If a pattern of broken commitments have lead to tensions in the relationship between the client and the evaluator, interacting is likely to become more difficult as time goes by, and more commitments will be broken. The solution that is required, is a fix for the relationship!

The book has so many other good suggestions, which would be very handy in planning interactions with a hypothetical problem client. May you never have the need of applying these skills!

*My husband says that when people say "theoretically" they mean "not really". When I say hypothetically, I mean exactly that!

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