I just got off the phone with someone that I haven’t spoken with in over a year. I don’t know if this is the case for any others of you independent evaluators out there, but for me I have this happen often. There are relationships that develop and preliminary work begins and just never gets anywhere. We lose touch, then time passes and I’ll get an email or a phone call saying “remember me?” and we start trying again. I’ve had this happen several times now over my career and eventually something takes.
I have a relationship with a software company that I’ve had for going on several years now and just about every project I walk into I’m thinking how can I connect these two dots? Hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hopeful one day it will!
So, back to the resumed relationship, this gentleman is in New Orleans and has been down there now for a couple of years working in the trenches with folks desperately trying to carve out a life for themselves in the midst of tragedy upon tragedy. He said it is hard not to get emotional about the violence, the despair, the lack of infrastructure to support genuinely hard working people who just want a life for themselves and their families. He shared that there are great ideas but no access to support.
I have been working and trying to take some time off, hence the gaps in the blogging, but realize when these conversations raise their heads that our work as evaluators, as social and human service workers, truly never ends. But rather than see this as some unattainable goal that will never be reached, see it as a slow developing process that needs attention differently at different stages. Sometimes it is the initiation, the tilling the soil, the planting the seeds, then at others it is the watering, while still later some weeding must occur, eventually some type of harvest emerges, but very soon thereafter a new crop is ready to be planted. It is a perpetual cycle that I believe feeds us both physically and metaphorically, and we get smarter and smarter with each iteration. Not sure when the next post will be as the summer months have me distracted, but once school starts back I will be at it more regularly.
In the meantime, remember our work is like the lifecycle and there is no end to it, only entries and exits, slow growth and quick starts, heavy times and lighter ones, followed by endings and new beginnings. Enjoy the summer…but don’t stop the work!
So I’m hoping that everyone is considering a break or has already taken one as it is officially the summer season. Those of us who live on the East Coast have the luxury of beautiful beaches nearby and I have already been several times and am back again! I want to write this week about how important it is to take a break! We are no good to anyone if we are ragged out.
We in the social and human service fields, and even more so those of us in the independent consulting business, tend to work ourselves nearly to death. Our fields are the ones with the highest burnout rates. You may not be able to take a week or even several days, but anyone can put down the computer/phone and go take a walk. Or pick up a book, a non-work related book! Consider your life today, look and see where or if there is a balance of health, work, spirit, and sense of self. Do you have any of these that are out of balance? If so, I want you to try and identify that area and work to get some balance back to it.
Trust me, I understand that we go through phases where we have deadlines, I was on a grant last week for 10 hours one day, but I think it is critical to our success and to our longevity in the field that if we pull those days then we also give ourselves some time to do “nothing” (whatever your definition of that might be) for a bit. So, this week, as I sit on the sand myself, with my computer close by, I will be musing on how to take a break and how to work, how to live and how to rest, striking a balance will be the key theme.
As a final thought for the week and a final thought on the process of contract talks I close with the fact that they will go on forever in this business!! Every time you show up to another meeting, even after a contract has been proposed, and sometimes after it has been accepted, there will be one more thing that needs to be addressed. Sometimes it is dramatic changes that emerge because of significant program or staff changes and other times it is minor tweaks, but the point is that we, as consultants need to understand that there really is NO end to this process!
If we can get it in our heads, along with the concepts I mentioned earlier about these talks not being an argument, that these talks never really end, but simply change then we don’t have false hopes. If I show up to a contract talk that I have already signed and am ready to hit the ground running so to speak with the thoughts that all “issues” are resolved I am setting myself up for disappointment. On the other hand, if I understand that contract talks are living breathing processes that change over time, waxing and waning like the moon then I am not caught off guard when a client reveals the need for a small or large change. Granted, I’m not speaking of the formal legal documents, as once they are signed, they are firm. But I am talking about the work that occurs under the auspices of the contract and often times things you must do while leading up to renewal or rewriting of contracts.
I think my main point to take home is that this is a perpetual conversation, keep in mind the communication suggestions I have offered, as well as the others offered over the past few weeks on contract talks in particular. I think the key is to realize that there is no end, this is an iterative and continual process. Just think of it as a perpetual training ground! Much like with relationships, each round is a lesson to take to the next one! Have a great weekend.
Today’s thoughts on contract talks are more philosophical in nature in that what I want people to realize when entering into contract negotiations, either for a single contract for evaluation work or for a job, the conversation is NOT a battle. It seems everyone operates from a standpoint of fear and this is a false sense, I realize when I say this that there is always the real threat of not getting the contract or the job being sought. But, the reality is another contract and another job will come around so there is really no need to be afraid every time you go into these talks. In addition to being afraid, people are often defensive or overly concerned about getting “my” way across. This needs to go away, just as the fear.
What contract negotiation truly is, at the heart, is a way for a plan to be built that is mutually beneficial to both the client and the consultant, or the job seeker and the employer. Both parties have certain parameters that they are working from and also have certain negotiable points too. If everyone involved can go into the conversation with the mindset that we are here to build a plan that works for everyone then all the tension and fear will go away. If you read back through some of my posts on communication, they come in here as well. Be honest, be truthful about your situation, whatever it is, allow the employer to do the same. I find that asking simple questions and allowing the client to answer them releases tension and also lets the client know that you care enough about him/her to have him/her give significant input into the conversation.
Work on keeping your tone of voice calm and direct, if you start to be defensive about a point remind yourself that you are in a plan building process and when we build things it takes time and often multiple attempts. Contracting doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Start to think differently about it today and you will be surprised at how smoothly the next contract talk you enter into will go!
So, how is it that June 7th can turn into June 21st? I mean crazy…it is summer. I’m blaming it on the South Carolina heat! Sorry for the absence, but a much needed break took over. I will however be continuing my thoughts this week about contracting talks. I’m back!
So, after talking about being clear and explicit about what is needed when you are initializing contracts I move toward something a little less clear. That is the scope of the work. Sometimes, in fact many times, when I enter into a contract I identify what looks as if will be the focus of the work but when I get “inside” the project or “on the ground” so to speak it looks completely different. What to do then? Well, if you allowed for this while having your initial contracting conversations then you are free to move about a bit. This is what I want you to always do. The reality is that we never know precisely what the work will look like until we get into it. The longer we are in practice, the more direct sense we may have of what is a most likely scenario, but can’t know for sure until operating in the project parameters.
How then do you discuss with a client that you know what they need to pay you, and you think you know what the work will look like, but you might be wrong without looking like a complete idiot? Well…finesse. What you do, is keep handy concrete examples of other projects that began one way, but ended another…all the while serving the clients needs. Some of the changes in direction even enhanced or improved upon the initial concept proposal…definitely use those in these next contract talks. If clients see that you really have positive experiences that have emerged from unknown but necessary changes it reduces anxiety and quite honestly makes you look less foolish. So, my thought for the day is that there are ways to be vague and ask for leeway, but not sound like you just have no clue what you are doing. Good evaluation is living and breathing and therefore it is a good evaluator’s task to create a living breathing contract that will allow the project to be properly and effectively evaluated. Have a great week everyone.