Taking a Risk
My First Big Deal
On the first day of fieldwork, my manager and I expected a routine kickoff meeting. After all, we held a long history with this account. But after Jimmy shook our hands, he looked straight at me, and launched into a complaint. He felt dissatisfied with our relationship, considering the millions of dollars his department had spent on us in previous years.
When my manager left the field that day, she was disturbed. But her schedule was full, and she felt her only choice was to leave Jimmy in my hands. My competence comforted her, but she also had the security of the long-term relationships built at the executive levels. I knew how she felt, and I checked in with her every few days to report on engagement issues, including Jimmy's demeanor. With each report, she felt more relieved I was on-site. And I was grateful for the opportunity to prove my project management and client management skills.
Clearly, I had my work cut out for me. I directed my team to use the client's time sparingly and sensitively while gathering more information than actually necessary. We completed within budgeted guidelines. I came as close to micromanaging than I had ever allowed myself previously. I managed this project better than any other previous project in my care.
I instructed my team to let me run all interference with Jimmy. I checked in with Jimmy every day and gave him a status report each night. I wanted to ensure Jimmy knew I was sensitive to his concerns. I made sure Jimmy left before any of us, so he would see us working hard on his behalf. Every day, I mentioned it was my primary objective to win back his trust in our firm. I took Jimmy out to lunch every week to discuss the project informally. Eventually, he consented with a smile that his relationship with our firm was congealing again.
The Big Break
Since each of my team members worked on different applications, I reviewed seven independent reports - so I had the advantage of the birds eye view. So I was not surprised when I noticed a stress pattern recurring among the reports my team was writing for me. I performed a second analysis to confirm and back up my hypothesis. I created a number of solutions for the issue. I worked throughout the night to put together a professional package to present to Jimmy.
For an executive vice president of a conservative mutual fund company, I always thought Jimmy was quirky. He neglected office politics, and he liked being outspoken. Where most people should have been offended by his personality, he made the contrast work to his advantage. I especially appreciated his demand to take him at face value at all costs. So when Jimmy walked in two hours late with an especially large smile the next morning, I knew the day was mine.
I inquired about his tardiness and that big smile. He and his wife just found out they were pregnant. He had taken her on a ride on his Harley Davidson up the coast and back. I congratulated him and suggested we go for a celebratory lunch. He heartily agreed.
I stopped by his office a little after 1 p.m. to go to the Four Seasons. I was going to schmooze him as well as my budget allowed me. I have never had such an extravagant lunch before or since. We ordered champagne to complement our exquisite meal. We toasted to his new family. We toasted to the bonus he was expecting next week. We toasted to new beginnings in general. I was ready to make my move.
I brought with me the client satisfaction survey I had created the night before. I acknowledged his initial reaction to our presence was negative and stated I had worked hard to influence his opinion otherwise. I asked him to fill out the survey. He agreed. And we returned to the office after coffee and dessert.
At the end of the day, I returned to his office at my usual time. He welcomed me in and wore an even bigger smile. He handed me an envelope, which he told me to present to my manager. I took out the presentation I had prepared and explained I wanted to go over results to date. We went over the findings. He listened to my analysis. He immediately understood the gravity of the findings as well as the significant contract that would be required to remedy the issues. He thanked me and dismissed me.
The next morning, Jimmy surprised me with an emergency management meeting. In his office sat his boss, the CIO, the CFO, the COO, and the audit committee chair. I made an impromptu presentation to the most senior people in the company. I never knew such nervousness. Somehow, I managed through it. I explained the problem, the risks, and the alternatives. I left them to deliberate.
Jimmy called me into his office an hour later. They had decided to take my recommendations and hire us for another $3 million contract. As nervous as I had felt before, I was now elated. I shook their hands and went back to my desk to call my firm. My management congratulated and reprimanded me - congratulated me for repairing the client relationship and the sale, and reprimanded me for not following firm protocol. It should not have been me in that meeting but my senior manager and partner. Regardless, I enjoyed my crowning moment.
Obviously, my risks were great in this instance. The client mistrusted our judgement from the start. I chose not to follow proper escalation procedures within my firm's guidelines. I overtook the pitch by myself, which could seriously have backfired. But as high as my risk was, so was my payoff. For the first time in my career, I got a bonus check. And that envelope Jimmy gave me ended up being the survey and an unsolicited letter of gratitude addressed to my management. My performance raise that year was significant. And Jimmy and I are still close colleagues.
While I do not recommend everyone take such large risks, everyone should know successful risks come with major rewards. Equally, a great potential to fail accompanies such risks. So assess your risks carefully before deciding on a plan of action. And make sure you have a backup plan. This was one aspect I neglected. I was lucky in my instance. Had I not been lucky, I could