Authors Bryan Shane and Patricia Lafferty: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder
An Interview With Ben Ari
Never take client discourse personally. The client is in the driver’s seat, and they are often under undue pressure themselves. As a result they may not filter their words and sometimes discourse may be harsh. You job is to filter what is being said to get to the meat of the matter. You cannot let your emotions interfere with the requirements of the assignment.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Shane and Patricia Lafferty.
Bryan Shane and Patricia Lafferty are co-authors, of THE LEADERSHIP-DRIVEN METHOD TO PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENT: The How-To Book on Improving Performance Measurement In The Public And Not-For-Profit Sectors. They are also co-founders of BPC Management Consultants, a client-centered, management-consulting firm based in Ottawa, Canada.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Bryan and I met while at Graduate School and we were both at a crossroads in our lives. After graduating (and eventually getting married), he went on to head a national not-for-profit organization, and I went to work for an IT system development company as an education specialist. My work was challenging, the learning curve was straight up and there were many opportunities for growth and advancement. However, it wasn’t long before Bryan was restless and after thinking long and hard, we decided that the best course of action was for him to work for himself. He established BPC Management Consulting Ltd. Becoming an independent consultant really was an excellent fit for his skill set and personality. The work was projected oriented, challenging, and provided a wide diversity of different projects ranging from project management to business planning, performance measurement, governance and information technology. Eventually, I joined the company full time and over the years, we did most of our management consulting work in an IT environment. Working for ourselves gave us the independence to write and publish articles documenting the unique approaches we used to solve client problems. And more importantly, it provided the client with a documented success story that helped them along their own career path.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When we first started consulting contracts were very difficult to obtain. We did not have a reputation and were forced to work as contractors rather than consultants. In effect, we were required to act as members of staff yet retain our independence as advisors. This role can be a very political but in some ways it was a freeing role as our contract could be cancelled at any time, for any reason, without recourse. Knowing this going in ensured that we always gave the client the best independent advise we could as we did not have to play people or organizational politics. Yes, we had to apply diplomacy, tactfulness, mediation, negotiation and above all deliver on the requirements of the contract, but we could be brutally honest when required.
Over time we developed an excellent reputation as trusted consultants, advisors and mentors. Consulting is not easy. We had to trust ourselves and the processes that we followed, put aside resources during the good times for the lean times and communicate openly with each other, which can be quite difficult if you are married to your business partner.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Being in a business and personal partnership really helped us through the rough and tough times. Mind you, we had to learn to work together as we have quite different personality types. We had to find similarities and support each other through our differences. We are fortunate in that we have similar skills and knowledge and complementary approaches to the work. I think the hardest part of dealing with challenges was learning to respect each other’s skill set and to really listen before jumping in with suggestions or queries to help clarify thinking. If Bryan was going through a rough patch, then he could get suggestions and feedback from me and vice versa. If one of us was feeling like calling it quits, there was always a sounding board to help put things in perspective or someone to just give a swift kick in the hind parts, figuratively speaking. And, of course there was a household to support, bills to pay, a son to raise. All good motivators to keep on trying.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going well — we have grown and changed with all the different clients and challenging assignments that we have had. Neither of us ‘suffers fools gladly’ and we are made of pretty stern stuff. It is basically in our upbringing and nature. We were both brought up that hard work never hurt anyone, and that success and hard work went hand in hand. I also think that we do a pretty good job of self-referencing. We do this by reviewing each assignment and try to determine what went well, what might have gone better, what won’t we do again (hard to remember this one). We are now in the position to pass along what we know and have learned.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was always concerned when we started consulting together that Bryan, being a man, would be taken more seriously and be more respected than I. On a very early assignment, we were interviewing for a contract that had two components to it and required our unique skill sets. We agreed that since we had different last names, we would not mention our personal relationship at all, but to simply represent BPC. After meeting and talking it was becoming apparent that the contract was ours. Bryan turned to me and said, ‘Does that work for you Babe?’ The client was horrified, I was stunned, but then the tension was broken when Bryan, realizing what he had said in such an easy manner said, ‘It’s OK — we’re married to each other.’ Relief was palpable and we all had a good laugh. What we learned from that was to never try to be something we weren’t. A good lesson for anyone to learn in any circumstance.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are a very small firm by design — just the 2 of us, though we have a wide cadre of other like-minded and very talented confreres who we can call upon to assist where needed. I think this sets us apart. For whatever reason, we didn’t want the day-to-day administrative and regulatory challenges that come with having staff. We are temperamentally suited to the pressures of consulting, the challenges that come with learning curves that are intense, the different organizations, personalities and skills of the clients we worked with. Another thing that makes BPC stand out is that we truly want to see our clients succeed. One example is that now that we are in the twilight of our careers, we have written 2 books that clients can use directly in their own environments. These are not theoretical management books but practical, down to earth books, based on our experiences, with tried-and-true practical tools that the client can use verbatim of modify to suit their own unique environments.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It is very tempting when you are working on a complex time bound assignment to become caught up in the client’s anxiety and concerns. It is vitally important to set your boundaries at the outset and remember while you are responsible for your suggestions, advise, counsel and your deliverables, you do not hold the ultimate authority or responsibility for the outcome of the totality. That belongs to the client. But it also means that you need to mentor your client along the way to ensure their success — somewhat of a tight rope. One of the ways we were able to maintain a work-life balance was to never work Fridays. Fridays were reserved for Bryan and I to write, research, or just be together away from the day to day client issues. The other way to not burn out, and I think this applies not just to consultants but to every professional is to develop outside interests — photography, painting, drawing, reading, running, golf, exercise — anything that gives you joy will help you recharge your batteries.
Finally, and this takes discipline — do not talk about work once you are off! It is so easy to do when you live and work together.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
This is a very hard question. There have been so many — senior staff in organizations where we were employees, fellow staff, fellow consultants, clients, clients who became friends, family, and the administrative assistants of clients. In fact, personally, I think that without the admin staff of clients to steer you through the culture and workings of an organization, people like us would be doomed to failure.
We have been exceedingly fortunate to work in Ottawa, a city with one of the most educated populations in the world. In this environment, there are always people who will challenge your way of thinking or offer alternatives. The types of assignments that were the most challenging were those where we were required to introduce significant change. One of the things you quickly learn in doing what we did was that we could learn something from everyone we had a professional interaction with.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
What organization spends the most in resources, people, money and information technology in almost every nation of the world and yet, also wastes the most? The answer often surprises. It is government — whether at the federal, state/provincial or city level. When we say government, we mean those entities that take tax dollars and use them for the public good. Why is there so much wastage as documented in seemingly never-ended auditor reports? Because wisdom in decision-making and information for wise decision making is often lacking.
We focused our resources on providing guidance and concrete methods to improve transparent governance and practical performance measurement in public and not-for profit organizations. After more than 30 years in the business we decided to write 2 books on these subjects. The books, “The 3P Approach to Governance” and “The Leadership Driven Method to Performance Measurement” are very different from your standard management texts. Rather that talking about the what and why, these books are how-to books that focus on the how and when. These books are practical, down to earth step-by-step approaches, complete with tools that the reader can take verbatim or modify and apply to their organization to:
- Facilitate excellence in programs and services.
- Ensure motivated and productive staff.
- Enable the development and use of innovative business practices.
- Provide the ability to deal with unexpected challenges and emergencies.
The content in these 2 books is our way of giving back to public organizations providing them the means to improve their use of public resources to better serve their communities.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It is much harder than you think it is going to be — intellectually and emotionally–you are always solving problems of one sort or another
- You are always on — there is no time to rest, reflect, make egregious errors. You are always in front of an audience and everyone around you is looking to judge, based on their own personal biases.
- You must perform at a high level despite how tired, nervous, stressed or bored that you are.
- It requires constant marketing to create a stable of perspective clients
- There are always surprises. You are often working several opportunities at once & the relationship you have with each client is somewhat different based on personality, experience or organization. For example, the contract you might expect to get is often not one that comes through.
- Never take client discourse personally. The client is in the driver’s seat, and they are often under undue pressure themselves. As a result they may not filter their words and sometimes discourse may be harsh. You job is to filter what is being said to get to the meat of the matter. You cannot let your emotions interfere with the requirements of the assignment.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
I suspect very few people in this world set out saying, ‘I’m going to run my own business!’ or ‘I’m going to work for myself’. Most, like us, start out working for others and for whatever reasons, over time, realize that the situation just isn’t working. Maybe it happens early in one’s working life or later after trying a few different environments. We like to say, ‘No one leaves the nest voluntarily’. Deciding to set out on one’s own with just an idea is a very scary thing to do. You don’t know if you have what it takes, that people will want what you have to offer, be pleased with the results, or act as references later. The other thing that you don’t have an understanding of is the complexity of meeting the fiduciary and filing requirements of regulatory agencies. Believe me when we say, our accountants have been worth every penny. The highs come when you are successful at landing and delivering a contract (and getting paid) and the lows come when you have hit a roadblock or are in doubt about your abilities or the contracts that require your level of expertise are few and highly competitive. So much of our work depended on the government in power and its attitudes towards the external consultant. We had developed a number of processes to move forward and in the uncertain times had to learn to trust the processes in place, work within them and have faith that an assignment would be found that met our unique skill sets. Having faith in ourselves and each other really helped in those uncertain times.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We are trying to start a movement — awareness, understanding, acceptance and use of governance and performance measurement as improved processes in public and not-for profit organizational performance. That is why we wrote the 2 books. The hardest thing to change is an adult’s perspective or belief in something. If anything else, COVID taught us that. Performance measurement is not easy but if you don’t measure what is important, how do you know you are going in the right direction? How do you reward excellence and change that which might work better?
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find us at www.bpcgallery.com. This site contains information about BPC and how to reach us directly. It has direct links to our two books: The first is on Governance called the 3P Approach to Governance or Wise Decisions by Design and the other is the Leadership Driven Method to Performance Measurement or Informed Decisions by Design.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!