Heart to heart

Dec 04, 2017

Do your clients really love you? And do you love them? Before jumping into a big contract, you might want to know.

Something I learned a long time ago has to do with my relationship with my clients. If they love me and I love them, I’ll do my best work, and they’ll refer me to their friends. So, what does that love look like?

Let’s start from my first meeting with a new client. How do I feel about that client? Can we work together? Do I feel empathy for what they’re trying to accomplish? Do I even like them? Am I personally committed to what they want to do? Without building from this foundation, I can’t do my best work, and the client is unlikely to relate very well to me either.

So, how does one get started? If these factors are not part of how your relationship develops, I suggest you move on quickly. You’ll have more fun, and so will your client. I found early in my career that if I don’t like or don’t trust the client or their motives for what they’re planning, I’m not going to do my best work, and they’re not going to be very happy with me.

An architect’s energies will only accomplish great things if these factors are in place. And you can’t fake it. Establishing a bond with the client must come from your heart. So, what does it look like if your client just isn’t a fit for you, or you for him or her? And, by the way, there is usually one person – the leader of the client relationship – who will set the tone for the way the relationship is going to evolve. Don’t kid yourself or the client by talking yourself into a scenario that things are going to be all right. You can fabricate excuses (e.g., you really like the key contact; a few people in the firm have their hearts in the right place) because you really need the work or think it could result in a great addition to your portfolio.

A good fit and a successful relationship is all but guaranteed if I can honestly say:

  • I really like this person and think we could become great friends (after all, we’re going to be working with each other for a long time).
  • I trust this person and their motives, for the project, for the people they’re doing it for, and for the community at large.
  • Their motivations for doing the work align with mine (things like sustainability; energy and resource efficiency; what the project will accomplish for the community, and the people who will use it). In other words, things that matter to me.

Failing this, I really should refer this client to someone else.

The same advice holds for engineers and planners. If you don’t feel that there will be a strong bond and an alignment of goals and values, move on.

Ed Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with Zweig Group and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at efriedrichs@zweiggroup.com.

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