Come As You Are

Aside from being a top tune by Nirvana, Come As You Are for most people means no need to prepare, just turn up. This kind of spontaenous approach works well for parties, maybe less so at work.

A while back I was asked to deliver a three hour session on collaboration, and I agreed in principle. I followed up my agreement with a note:

Before I get stuck in and fully commit to this – can you confirm what my remuneration will be for the design and delivery of this piece of work please? I anticipate this taking two days overall – one to design, one to deliver.

We weren’t able to proceed because the budget on offer was half of our previously agreed one day rate, for what I thought was two days work. It wasn’t so much the fact that I felt the fee was too small, although it was, what surprised me more was the attitude towards preparation time. The company went on to explain:

The idea was for you to come along and provoke their thinking rather than teach or train them anything, as all the content will be covered off by A.N.Other during the main sessions. This session is an added bonus we have thrown in for the client so I’d like to think you could come along and “recycle” something you already have prepared. I appreciate this might not have been made clear to you, so would understand if you chose to decline the piece of work, but we would like you to do it…

I subsequently called to discuss things – just to make sure everyone was clear on how this was supposed to work, or rather, not work. During the conversation I looked for some clarification, asking, ‘Are you really OK with me turning up and working with your client having done no research and preparation?’ It turns out that yes, they were OK with it, at least to the extent that they saw no need to pay for my preparation time. ‘We thought you’d just rock up and give a talk’, was how it was positioned in a subsequent conversation.

We left it there and parted on good terms. No hard feelings but for me to accept this proposal would have been to seriously devalue my own worth and more importantly, that of the team I would have been let loose on.

Preparation Matters

Whether you’re employed or self employed, an integral part of work is the preparation that you invest beforehand. You wouldn’t expect a top flight sports person to turn up for a race, finish in last place and then say, ‘I did no training for this event whatsoever and yet somehow, I finished last. How did that happen?’ in the post race interview. Likewise when you’re working with colleagues you can usually tell if they’re prepared or not – and I may be wrong, but I expect you make judgements on their suitability for future work based partly on their preparedness or lack of it?

We spend time in preparation, in development, so that the delivery is as good as it can be. So why are people sometimes so reluctant to see past that burst of face to face time, and beyond to the hard graft that made the real work, work?

Everyone has a budget, everyone has to make a call on what good value looks like eventually, but I smiled when my friend Gary Franklin shared this on Facebook recently.

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Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

7 thoughts on “Come As You Are”

  1. Doug

    I have just returned to my desk after a meeting with a colleague who is after iteration 4 of an agenda for a 1 day team away day… There’s preparation and there’s preparation.
    The meeting ended with me pushing back to him with the following phrase “it’s as close as it’s going to get, from here we just grip it and rip it”. Maybe not want he wanted to her but enough is enough.

    I know you loath personality instruments so won’t make any kind of point about how some people actually would be far more comfortable to just “rock up and talk” and I have some friends/colleagues who find that preparation stifles them and what drives the good performance is the adrenaline… Won’t make that point at all 😉

    1. Thanks Rob – I agree that sometimes people need to be nudged past a desire for perfection, whatever that is – and accept the work is ‘good enough – move on’.

      I also understand and appreciate that adrenaline rush, I can completely relate to how that can aid performance. I occasionally find myself in a situation where I’m asked to contribute unexpectedly, and a lot of my work has a looseness to it, which you can’t necessarily prepare for.

      Nevertheless – I’m left wondering how much work organisations commission, internally and externally, with an explicit instruction to the supplier to come and deliver without doing any preparation? I may be wrong, I often am, and I’m guessing the answer is…not much?

  2. I like it when you agree with me – makes everything work more easily!!

    To the main point of your blog which I may have subverted in order to make a point but whole heartedly agree that time spent in preparation is absolutely vital. In support I will walk away from internal situations where people refuse to invest time in preparation or are try and push me/my team into working with prep.

  3. The art of being a true professional is in making it all look easy. Even Nirvana and The Damned practiced! 😉

    We’ve shared lots of odd stories about this over the year. My latest is when HMRC asked me to work for nothing as they ‘have no budget’ for speakers. I could not find a suitable reason to change their view, even offering them 30% discount for tax or ‘cash’ 🙂

    All the best for 2014 – here’s to fewer of these calls, unless they are genuinely amusing!


    1. Thanks Peter – I agree with you and therein lies the critical need and hope that others appreciate a similar perspective. There are of course times when something looks easy just because it is, and that’s great. And as you say – there are times when something looks easy because you’ve sweated buckets behind the scenes crafting it. I have seen The Damned perform many times since the late 1970’s. They were and are sharp as a pin.

      Here’s to a great 2014 – cheers!

  4. Doug – I can’t argue that some companies are cheap or don’t value improving their employees. That said, I wanted to offer a different perspective for you. Selling prep time is really, really difficult. People and companies expect contractors to show up prepared and charge only for the actual work. Contractors get paid for results. This holds true whether we’re talking about athletes, plumbers, mechanics, IT folks, or even musicians. For example, one might eagerly pay $50 to see The Damned, but I suspect most people would balk at seeing the following written on the ticket: $25 for concert + $25 for rehearsing the day before.

    Sooo, rather than saying it’s a day of prep and a day of face time work so it’s two days, why not just build your prep time in to the overall price? Plus, when you have both work and prep time on the proposal it makes it all too easy for them to negotiate down: “Hmmm, it’s a $1,000 a day (yes, I’m completely making that # up) with a day each for prep and work. Doug, we don’t pay for prep time so I guess we’ll pay you $1,000 for the day of work.” That’s a much different conversation than: “Hmmm, $2,000 to facilitate discussion for a day. Because we’re not asking for original content, could you come down on price a bit?”

    Alan Weiss has a book called “Million Dollar Consulting” that elaborates and argues for project-based fees instead of hourly or daily fees.


    1. So good to hear from you with such an excellent idea. Thanks Broc – I think I may well have been looking at this the wrong way. Great stuff to ponder over Christmas. I do tend to charge for a project, often and not always – this example I gave was for me supporting someone else in an associate capacity rather than directly. And notwithstanding that I need to think more carefully about making the offer as compelling as possible.

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