Every so often I get a client that spends a lot of my team's time going over company history and what every consultant before us has done for them. How do I politely decline what seems to be burning up a lot of time when we could be working?
There are several things you could do. First, with respect, it is the client's choice how to spend your time. If they feel it is important to let you know about their history and how they got to where they are now, think about why this is a problem for you. It may just be the thing you need to help you understand where their head and heart are with the changes about which they are asking you for advice. Consider that their need/desire to go through their history says a lot about the importance they place on tradition, process and company history.
Second, hearing about what they have tried and why it worked or did not is invaluable. You are there because either internal or consultant-aided change processes have not worked, or at least have not persisted. The success of your design depends on how well you understand why past efforts failed, and whether your approach is likely to work under current conditions. In many cases, clients may not have really understood the approach a prior consultant was taking and this was cause of failure. Knowing your client and how they have related to consultants is important and is well worth whatever time they are investing to help you understand this.Tip:
Consider it a gift to have a client willing to spend time and attention reviewing where they came from and how they have tackled this problem in the past. This should already be a key part of your inbrief with any client. Don't shortcut the process.© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA