One of the key tenants in Small But Mighty is building your business model so that you can effectively integrate work and life. This integration means ensuring that you're able to accommodate both work and life as best as possible. Sometimes you have to engage in life when people are traditionally working and vice versa. Though most consultants I know strive for work-life integration the goal is often one that's hard to realize.
In my second year of leading Civitas Strategies, I learned how difficult work-life integration truly was. That year marked the arrival of our first son Benjamin. At the end of my wife's maternity leave, I decided that I was no longer going to consult on Mondays, but rather use it as a “Daddy Day” for my son. (This tradition continues today with our second boy, Finn). At the end of that first year at home, a colleague and mentor, Tony Berkley (who also balanced consulting earlier in his career), asked me what I learned over the past 12 months. Without thinking, I quickly responded "the power of no."
I have always prided myself on being the "go to guy." I was the one who would work whatever hours it took to satisfy the client or be on a plane with 24-hours notice to make a meeting. I learned that reserving Mondays as “Daddy Day” and functioning in a household with two working parents meant I needed to start saying no, and I quickly became quite adept at it. Consequently, my consultancy continued to grow larger, I was happier, and I felt like I had avoided short-changing work time and time with my children.
In addition to setting personal limits and saying no, I have adopted a number of strategies that continue to help me realize life/work integration. This is not an exhaustive list of strategies, but it covers some of the most important. I encourage you to add your own to the comment section below to help your peers as they navigate work-life integration
Set Boundaries - I think the first step of being able to say no is setting clear boundaries and metrics for yourself. The boundaries can be obvious, such as my saying "no Mondays" but I also recommend metrics for other things that may not be as easy to delineate for your client, but are still important to you. Here's a prime example that comes up all the time – travel. When most people meet me they assume as a consultant I'm on the road half or three quarters of every month. In truth, I'm not at all – I rarely travel more than 10 days year. This is a conscious decision I made not only to keep me connected to my family, but also because of profitability. The more you are on the road the less time you have to bill, and in turn, the less revenue you bring in. What I suggest to consulting clients who are concerned about travel is setting metrics depending on their business model and clients. For example, no more than 10 days on the road per year or no more than five days a month. These metrics will help you to know when you need to say no, or potentially just to say "I'm booked up this month, but let me come to your site next month."
Keep Clients Informed—Probably the simplest of all – be honest and upfront with your clients. What I mean by this is that if there is a limit that your client needs to know about, let them know right from the get-go. This helps to set expectations, clear the air, and also signal to them what you are able and not able to do. For me, typically in the first conversation with a perspective client, I let them know that on Mondays I'm home with my son, and though I can respond by phone and email, that day is generally limited. I will also typically note this somewhere in a proposal to the new client (but not in subsequent renewals when they are used to my schedule). When I've mentioned this to other consultants they've expressed anxiety about being so honest that quickly. What I actually found was that very little changes. First of all, I've only had one perspective client decline an engagement and mention it, and even that perspective client felt like there were other incompatibilities between us. Second, I've had a number of perspective clients not only have no issue with it, but actually see it as a differentiator – an opportunity to be supportive of the work-life integration that many of us espouse.
Maximize Flexibility - Another strategy is to use the flexibility of consulting to your maximum benefit. When we talk about work-life integration versus work-life balance, the key difference is when and how you're doing your work. Work-life balance means making clear divisions between home and work life, where as integration is about maximizing the time for each and interweaving them. This might mean being very cognizant of which tasks you must do during normal business hours – even if they are not the most urgent – and holding off on other tasks until evening hours or weekends. This trade off could allow you to have time during prime weekday daytime hours to pursue what's important to you.
Rely on Your Team - Finally, I would consider how you can use your team to complement your time. Here is what I mean - though I am off on Mondays, my Engagement Manager, Alison LaRocca is on. As a result if there is something urgent that comes up, a meeting or a call that needs to be made to a client, she can make it. The result from the client’s perspective is seamless support – they don't even know I'm home with my son. Recently in fact, one client had even forgotten that I wasn't available on Mondays because we were so responsive.
Two last thoughts on the subject. First, know that there is a cost to life-work integration. There are projects I've had to say no to, which means losing revenue. As I mentioned, I had one client say no to me in part because of my schedule. However, by and large there has been no measurable impact on my business.
Second, as I mentioned above this is not an exhaustive list – what are you doing? How are you saying no and integrating life and work?
Comment below and help your peers (and me) with your ideas.
With more than 15 years of management and consulting experience, Gary has the expertise and skills to help public serving organizations move from vision to implementation. He is currently CEO of Civitas Strategies, where he helps clients establish realistic strategies that connect to communities’ needs and strengths.
Gary has consulted with a wide array of organizations including: the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Take Stock in Children, The University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning, and SmartStart Georgia. Gary has also been a line manager in science and engineering firms, (the Battelle Memorial Institute and Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure) and WestCare, Inc., a regional substance abuse prevention and treatment agency. Gary has lectured on human services project management at Boston College and the future of early childhood education at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.