Remember your first day on a new job? It’s rough. No matter how experienced, seasoned or polished you are, there’s a measure of uncomfortableness when you step into a new building for the first time. You look for your desk or office in a gangly, awkward kind of way and try to act like you’ve been there a million times before. Your actions give you away.
You stare at the painting on the wall or take the time to read the posters in the lobby that espouse the company’s cultures and beliefs. You take a left instead of a right on your way to the restroom. You didn’t realize you were in the elevator with the company’s CEO when you decided to not say a word. Plus, there’s either deafening silence or idle chit chat as you walk down the hallway with other employees, or sit in meetings with groups of new people that you have nothing in common with…yet.
In short order, you move past the adolescent stage in your new project management job and start making things happen. You begin to dig into the details. You know where the company’s troubles lie, and where you can bring value. You start assembling teams. You pass by the company’s cultures and beliefs in the lobby without reading them. You even know where the restrooms are! You get things done. You’ve become an important part of the inner workings of this company and have established a good rapport and working relationship with your peers.
Your boss then throws a monkey wrench right into the middle of your comfort zone. He assigns a new project that will require you to be onsite at a new client’s office on a regular basis. The client is new, the office is new, the project is new, and the people are new.
Get ready to relive your first day on the job all over again!
It’s even a bit more challenging to “fit in” when you’re not an employee of the company, but a vendor. The dynamic is different right out of the gate. You won’t be there all the time and probably won’t have a place where you can officially call home. You may be shuttled from cube to cube or conference room to conference room whenever you are on site. The people you will be working with have worked together for years. They have a history and share accomplishments and failures as a team. They have private jokes and begin conversations with, “Remember when…?” All you can reference is the past few days you’ve been there.
But, in short order, you move past this gangly, awkward adolescent stage in your new onsite project management job and start to make things happen. People quit looking at you as the newbie. You’ve set yourself up as an expert when it comes to managing the project. People look to you for your opinions and advice.
How do you know that you are beginning to break into this coveted ground of acceptance, and more importantly, are valued as a project manager by a client and their team? Look for some of the following signs that your client has become comfortable with you and enjoys the working relationship:
#1. Uh Oh, Watch Out For That Guy
Over time you’ll work with more and more people at the client’s site. Your project may have started on the IT side of the business, but eventually requires you to talk to marketing, sales, or another business unit as the project progresses. You begin to establish relationships across many different groups. In the process of setting up these relationships, you are also establishing your reputation. People become more comfortable with you and the value you bring to the team.
How can you tell when they start getting to this comfort level? You may be sitting in the lobby waiting for someone to escort you into the building. Or, you may be walking down the hall or transitioning between meetings. What happens when people you’ve worked with a walk by? “Uh oh, watch out for that guy” is their nice way of saying, “He’s actually pretty decent.” People don’t typically admit their admiration for you to your face, so they resort to well-meaning barbs instead.
#2. Long-Standing Jokes
You know your client is comfortable with you when you are part of a long-standing joke. Now, I’m not saying that YOU are the long-standing joke, but rather, something that involved you has become fodder for the rumor mill. For example, a client came to visit our corporate offices, so I asked a coworker to take care of the lunch arrangements. We wanted to work all day in the office, and not go out for lunch. Evidently, my colleague was on a diet and seemed to think the rest of us needed to be on one as well because rather than a nice, hearty lunch that would carry us through the rest of the afternoon, we ended up with a Spring Mix salad. It was literally lettuce with a few tomato slices and light vinaigrette dressing, and that was it. I never heard the end of that meal for years to come. It appeared to the client that we were remarkably cheap, and he referenced that event as proof!
Subsequently, we had many wonderful meals together and the person who ordered the Spring Mix is no longer on a diet.
#3. People Don’t Say Hello To You Anymore
Taking this one for face value may seem a bit strange. How could it mean that you’ve established a good working relationship with a client if they don’t even say hello to you anymore? Look at it this way: if you only work with them every now and then, and don’t get to see everyone face-to-face on a regular basis…it’s a big deal when you’re there. They’ll feel compelled to get up and shake your hand, ask how things have been, and then sit down again.
On the other hand, if you work with them all the time, they’ll already have shaken your hand, know how you’ve been, and won’t even have to get out of their seat. The first couple of times it happened to me it was a bit unsettling; didn’t they know I had to take an early morning flight to get there? Didn’t these people know how much preparation I put into this trip? Nope. People don’t care. As far as they’re concerned, you are part of the team that by default should be in that meeting. They don’t shake each other’s hands every day, neither will they shake yours if they feel like you’re part of the team.
#4. “4th Annual…anything”
You’ll know you’ve made it when you are now working on the 4th, or 3rd, or 7th, or whatever number of anything. Certain meetings and events are held on a regular basis, whether quarterly, twice a year or annually. If you’ve done your job well, you’ll be part of the planning, execution, closure, and review of such events. You’ll learn from each one as you go along, and apply the learnings forward. This continuity and growth mean that you’ve been able to maintain the relationship in such a way that no one minds being seen publically with you!
#5. “What Do You Think?”
Finally, a sure-fire way to know you’ve established a relationship of mutual trust and respect is when they ask your opinion…about what they may be working on. This transcends mutual projects you both may be involved in and shows that they appreciate your opinion in general.
You’ll quickly figure out how to establish a good working relationship with your client once you’ve started from scratch enough times. Look for some or all of the signs above to know if you’re on your way to people not standing up and shaking your hand whenever you show up. Don’t worry…that’s a good thing.