Just over 10 years ago I went to Dallas to do a project for a very large consulting firm. The task was simple; do an evaluation of the hospital's charge master and charging system and offer suggestions on how to address them.

Craig Elliott via Compfight

Over the course of 3 weeks I did just that, looking at data, visiting hospitals and talking to people, and once that was completed I came home and put together a 9-page report.

However, while I was there, near the end of the first week, I asked the guy in charge how they wanted to see the information. He told me he wasn't sure since it was the first project he was overseeing and that I should check with one of the other people who'd been working for the organization a lot longer. I did that and was told to just put it together however I saw fit.

My next to last week there I went back to the person who'd told me to just put it together to show her how I was going to format things. She said that wouldn't work for them and at this point she produced a template and said that I should try to follow it. Overall it seemed easy enough, though I did have a couple of questions for her. She told me what she could, and it's that template I used to create my report when I got home.

After many weeks I heard from the person who recommended me that the organization wasn't happy with my report. I asked what the issue was and she said she wasn't sure. I sent her a copy of the report and she said it seemed fine, and that she'd check on it for me.

When I got the answer back, it was dismaying. It seems that what I thought they wanted, what they said they wanted, wasn't what they wanted at all. They didn't want me to solve anything, or to give them ideas on how to solve anything. They wanted me to find problems that they could then turn into more billable hours so they could stay there longer.

Now, had I known that's what they wanted, I'm not sure I'd have gone, though the money was good. Still, I did keep trying to ask them what they wanted, and even the person who communicated with me and got me the gig thought what I gave them was what they wanted. So I didn't worry one bit about any of it, but I always remembered the lesson.

As an independent consultant, it's my business and duty to go into a place looking to help resolve issues when called upon. It's never been my intention to try to get into a place and then find ways to stay there longer than I needed to. Sure, there have been gigs where I knew they probably needed me longer, but all I could do was provide them information and let them come to the decision on their own.

When people who have to work together have incompatible goals, it's hard to get anything completed, let alone completed correctly. While one person wants to get everything right, another person might want to get everything done fast so they can move on to the next project or even just sit back and take a break. That's why someone is usually put in charge of groups of people, to make sure everyone's on the same page and has some guidelines to follow for the overall good of the department.

When leaders don't effectively communicate goals, things will fail, and the only person to blame is the leader, who oftentimes will try to blame someone else. Now, if out of a team of 10 people only one person didn't get it, the blame is less, but there's still some blame there because either the employee needed to be addressed more specifically or let go because they can't efficiently grasp the processes needed to do the job right.

Have you ever found yourself having goals, or trying to complete a project and found that the person you were working with seemed to have different thoughts on the issue? How did you solve it?