One of the first lessons successful consultants learn is that clients don’t care about the time required to produce the design or report: they only care about the outcome, that it’s delivered by the promised time and for the agreed price.

One of the stories in “The Steel Ceiling” concerns my experience as an independent engineer, engaged over an almost two-year period from 2005 to 2006 by a consortium bidding for a major train supply contract to RailCorp NSW. The client-defined public-private partnership (PPP) contract comprised railcar supply, maintenance facility works, railcar through life support (maintenance) and financing.

Finalisation of the 260-page due diligence report needed to be squeezed between the preparation of the bid submission and submission sign-off by the various financial entities. I recall many heated conversations (mostly late at night) between the lead transaction arranger’s representative and my report compiler as, what felt like, every word was exhaustively reviewed.

The tendering timeframes for these submissions are typically as short as they can reasonably be made. Both client and tender applicant support the approach in principle, as it is the most effective way to limit the obscene amounts of money spent on the bid and transaction finalisation stage.

In this case, the competitive process culminated in a two-horse race between two similar sized Consortiums. Unfortunately, and as appeared to be the norm at the time, the two parties were subjected to a best and final offer stage, which required further amendments to the report. Much of this work was done during a flight to the US for a meeting with the party recruited relatively late in the process to provide a second layer of insurance for the CPI bonds (bonds in which payment of interest is related to the consumer price index), thereby supporting the credit rating of the bonds at issue.

I vaguely recall lifting my head from what felt like constant typing on the laptop to my first view of Manhattan. I’m sure I hadn’t processed that I was actually staying in the Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, New York, and spent much of the subsequent three-day trip on quite a high from the city’s legendary energy.

The valuable lesson that stayed with me is that meeting deadlines, no matter how tough, is how a competent consultant is judged, and the means by which mutually beneficial client relationships are established and maintained.

Likewise, we can consider the act of delivering an outcome to someone, by an agreed time and to an agreed standard, as a means of maintaining the integrity (think intact or unbroken) of the relationship with that other party.

If I make a promise to someone that I will do something and then subsequently break my word, I can consider the relationship with that other person to be out of integrity.

Business leaders regularly ask me: does integrity actually improve an organisation’s productivity and performance?

The work of Werner Erhard et al absolutely supports this proposition.

I put it to you this way:

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning, knowing you could 100% trust that every single person you make contact with today, either electronically or face to face, who commits to do something for you, delivers that something by the time it was promised and to the standard you expected it would be. What difference would that make to your day?

Peter Wilkinson – Director, Sam Wilko Advisory

Author of “The Steel Ceiling: Achieving Sustainable Growth in Engineering and Construction” Wiley, 2023