When you deliver value to people and show them that you are there to help solve their problem, you create connections and build relationships that get you opportunities you may have otherwise missed. As an organizational psychologist, Richard Citrin follows this concept because he knows that consultancy is a business of relationships. Richard has always shared his values of contributing and giving back to the community. He was able to leverage those connections because people already know that he can do a good job, and so they are more than willing to help him along the way.
Listen to the podcast here:
Deliver Value Through Consulting and Connecting with Richard Citrin
I’m very excited to have Richard Citrin joining us. Richard, welcome.
Thank you, Michael. Good to be joining you.
I’m excited for this, Richard. For those who don’t know you, explain what you do.
I am an organizational psychologist, and my work is with Fortune 500, large companies, but I also do quite a bit of work with non-profits. I enjoy my non-profit work as well. I’m a consultant. I do work around leadership development, team effectiveness, and doing things to make a difference in people’s lives and to help businesses grow and achieve the success that they want to achieve.
Were you always interested in this area of work that you’re now focusing in?
Yes and no would be the answer to that. I’m a psychologist by training. In the early part of my career, I was more of a clinician and a bit of an entrepreneur. I owned one of the largest outpatient behavioral healthcare clinic and consulting firms in the southwest while we lived in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition to clinical work, we had about 25 clinicians on our team. We also had a number of organizational consultants and we consulted with financial institutions and with airlines. American Airlines was one of our big clients. Alcon Laboratories, and several banks in Texas as well.
We did both of this clinical work and consulting work. I was excited about it and enjoyed doing that, but at some point, we were able to sell our practice, which was very big in the 1990s when we were able to do that. Then I worked for several healthcare companies. I was able to cut my teeth on corporate work and see more of what happens on the inside of companies. I found it very effective when I went back out on my own again as a consultant, because I now could speak from the fact that I had been a senior leader in several companies and understood both sides of the organizational consulting circumstance.
How did you initially get into setting up this practice, where you were doing both the medical side but also the consulting side? Were you always an entrepreneur? How did you get into that mode?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur and I consider myself to still be one. One of the critical factors that’s essential for consultants is we have to keep reinventing ourselves. We have to come up with new ideas every week, every day, and every year that’s going to bring more value to our clients and to the clients that we hope to work with. Entrepreneurship is a critical aspect of being a solo consultant working in this industry. For me, it was the case of saying how can we deliver better healthcare for people. What you saw in healthcare until the last ten or fifteen years has been solo practitioners, men and women working in their offices, whether it was primary care physicians or dentists or psychologists in my case, and I felt there has to be a better way to do this.
We can bring together the power of community, we can leverage resources, and deliver better care and maybe even cheaper care, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. We were able to deliver better care, but it costs more. That was primarily because managed care came in and as we’ve seen them do, they’re an intermediary in healthcare. They came in and they redid the marketplace. As a result, we found that we were struggling, and I didn’t like that arrangement. I was able to leverage my contacts and helped convince an organization to purchase us. That company was purchased by Humana Healthcare. It turned out to be a great deal for everybody in the long run and I loved it because it got me involved in new work and I find I get bored if I keep doing the same thing over and over again, so that was a shift for us.
Part of the question you had was how we got involved in some of the consulting work, and that was a little more happenstantial. Oftentimes we’d have clients who we were doing clinical work with and they would say to me, “Some of the things we’re talking about, I think it could help our business. Would you be open to that?” It’s the dream of many therapist and psychologist to work in the corporate setting, because it’s such an exciting opportunity to impact organizations and individuals in large groups and fix populations, and it certainly was for me. We had some great experiences, and that got me thinking about how much I wanted to do that work.
Do you remember how you went about getting your first healthcare client even before you started the consulting side within that initial business? How did you get that first healthcare client?
Your comment was one that I certainly adhere to and my mentor adheres to, which is that we’re in the relationship business. We’ve got to build relationships with people. We’ve got to get ourselves to a place where we know people, they trust us, and they build confidence with us. They know that we’re going to give them a straight shot and give them the true recommendations that we need. For me, it was always about relationships. When I was doing healthcare work, I would call up the owners of hospitals or I meet with psychiatrists or I talk to these managed care companies and I say, “Can I come over and take you out to lunch? I’d like to just get acquainted and know more about your work.”
One of the things that I like to say as a psychologist is that I’m much better as a listener than as a talker. Sometimes I’ll have people say to me, “I liked what you have to say. Could you come in and pitch that idea to my boss?” I say to them, “When I played Little League Baseball, I was never a pitcher. I was always a catcher.” By that, I mean I didn’t like the idea of pitching things. I’d much rather know what you’re interested in than trying to convince you that what I have for you is worthwhile and valuable. I can adapt my skills to what you need, but if I don’t know what you need, then I’m not building a relationship with you and you’ll have a hard time building trust with me.
It’s about building those relationships, yet a lot of people when they hear this, they’re going to think to themselves, “Why would they want to meet with you?” You’re picking up the phone and you’re calling these people that you don’t know. How did you get them to agree to meet with you? What was in it for them?
When I was doing this in healthcare, I was a customer of theirs or a potential customer of theirs. No matter who you’re talking to, whether you’re doing it as a consultant, as a salesperson, or whether as a call center representative for a company, you have to demonstrate to people what value you’re bringing to them. What’s in it for them to talk to you? The truth is, they have problems. They have issues that they have to deal with that if you genuinely believe that you are bringing some value to them and that you can help them, then go for it. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?
You built up this organization. It was healthcare and some consulting, and it later was acquired. It sounds like it was a fairly lucrative acquisition. Is that correct?
I would say it was lucrative all around. It wasn’t retirement lucrative, but it was still good.
What spurred you to go back and launch your consulting business?
I had twelve years in the corporate world, but I had two separate positions there. In 2009, I was laid off. My job was riffed. I was at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and I had a senior leadership role in the Insurance Services Division. I have done what I come up there to do. I achieved my objectives, and in fairness to the organization and in fairness to myself, I was not fully there. I was there, but I wasn’t being innovative. I wasn’t coming up with new ideas. I was riding the wave a little bit.
2008, 2009 was a scary time for people and I wound up being in the third rounds of RIF. I like to proudly say I was let go at the same time the Chief Nursing Officer was, so I was in good company. That was a little bit unnerving. I’ve written a book on resilience called The Resilience Advantage. What I recognized is that my track record is pretty damn good. Even though I’m feeling a little nervous about not being without a position, this is a great opportunity to consider what I want to do differently. What was obvious to me was that I wanted to be back out there by myself on my own.
At that point, what was it that you did to go about getting your first client?
I started going out and reaching out to people who I knew, letting them know that I was going to be out on my own, and here’s what I could do. I wasn’t quite sure how to market that. I hadn’t put a website together yet. I had somebody help me with some promotional materials, but in the end of the day, it was about my going out and meeting with people. I would add that one of the strategies that I have found very successful is that I’m very involved in my community. I live in Pittsburgh. I’ve been involved in a number of volunteer activities, everything from the women’s center and shelter to my township planning commission. I was involved in a local organization called Leadership Pittsburgh. There’s probably a Leadership Vancouver in the city you’re in.
There are all these leadership programs, which are programs designed to help develop community leaders. I was involved with that organization for a number of years as a program participant, but then when I was out on my own, I went to the program director and I said to her, “This program is great for building community leaders and these folks to get involved with the community, but what if we did something where we help them learn some of their own leadership skills, learn more about their own leadership skills?” I suggested to her that we set up a little three-session executive coaching program where people could get a taste of executive coaching. I would work with them, do a little assessment, and just help them set some directions for themselves. She loved the idea and over the course of the next five or six years, I’ve probably worked with 250 of the top leaders in Pittsburgh. That skyrocketed my career. I had people calling me and wanting to meet with me and I’d work with them for three months and then they say, “Can we continue this?” That use of volunteer work was very important.
Was that intentional? In the early days when you decided to get involved in all these different volunteer organizations, was it with a mindset of, “I’m going to develop these relationships to be able to grow my business”? Did it happen more organically and with less planning behind it?
When I had been at UPMC, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, I was involved in communities. That has always been an important value for me and my entire professional career. That sense of giving back and contributing was important. From a strategic point of view, I tended to work more at the board level than at the direct volunteer level. I had been a psychologist. I had done a lot of helping. I did feel like I needed to do that or that brought more joy to my life, but working at the strategic level, at the board level, you get to meet more people, so that part was intentional. It was all with the intent of giving back and genuinely caring about trying to make a better community here.
You’re following your values, but at the same time you’re opening yourself up to opportunities that otherwise you may have not encountered. A lot of consultants will not take that action. They’ll stay in the comfort of their own home or office or whatever it might be and spend a great deal of time building things, but they’re not getting out into their communities or meeting with others who potentially could bring them business. Any suggestions from you in terms of how to go about doing that? If there’re people that want to get more involved in their community, but do it in a strategic way or one that could have a real benefit for their business, what tips would you offer them?
Discern what it is that you’re passionate about in terms of volunteer activity. Is there a family member who experienced a life-threatening disease? Is it that your kids got a break by going to the Boys & Girls Club and they turned into a terrific young people? Was it that your older parents benefited from the services of a hospice organization? Whatever it might be, determine what it is that you believe in, then I would use the relationship skills of calling up the executive director of that organization or the volunteer coordinator. The higher up, the better, as high up as you could get to, and see if you could have lunch with that person or go on their website and see who the board members are and see if there’s somebody on the list of board members who you know and reach out to that person. When you go, make sure that you don’t talk about having them help you build your business, because it won’t happen that way. You better be on a board a couple of years and have made a significant or important contribution.
That’s how I got one of my biggest clients. It was a financial institution, and I served on the board of a small arts organization with someone who was the chief risk officer of one of our big banks here in town. His wife and my wife were also the same writers group together. My wife’s a writer and author. We got to know each other over the course of a couple of years and one day after a retreat that we had, he said, “Let’s go out to lunch. I’d like to know more about your work.” After that, he invited me to come to his company and start doing leadership work with them.
That was about five years ago, and I continue to do work with that organization. He’s moved on, but I was able to build good relationships in the company, so that’s worked out well. It’s a long way to get there via pure volunteer work, but it’s a great way to get connected to an organization. Go to the Heart Association Dinner. You don’t know anybody the first time you’re there, but after you go to the Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the Boys & Girls Club in your town, a few people will start to know you and you’ll find scenarios of interests that are appealing and enjoyable to you.
It’s a long-term play, but one that is not only rewarding but also can benefit your business as long as you have that long-term mindset, which certainly you do. What about you? You’ve worked with many Fortune 500 organizations. Your approach to winning business at that level, has it been any different? Was it a matter of reaching out to people and setting meetings, or did you find a different approach to be effective in getting into those enterprise-size businesses?
I don’t care where you are in your consulting business. This is the work that you’re in, which is helping consultants to be more successful. You have to find someone who you can work with and who you believe can help you grow your business. I’ve worked with Alan Weiss for the past eight years. When I went to Seattle and the first time, I thought, “He’d probably have some good ideas, but he probably has it set up in a way that I hadn’t thought of.” After my first half day with Alan at a conference, I said, “I don’t know anything.” You don’t have your head around what it takes to be a successful consultant if you haven’t worked with somebody who has dedicated their life to that, knows what they’re doing, and can deliver expertise.
What I’ve learned in my training and my work with Alan is the idea of, “How do you deliver value? What is it you’re doing that’s going to make a difference in that person’s business? How are you going to help them to grow their revenues or to retain their employees or to have better productivity out of the people who are working there?” Whatever it is that they need to get from their business, how are you going to help them to achieve that? I often go in and it’s hard for me to do, because I like to talk, but the more I shut up, the more I learn.
How do you get in? What’s the approach that you’ve found most effective for getting a seat at the table? Being able to sit down with a prospective buyer and listen and ask them questions?
It’s the relationship building. How do you start to build it? Volunteer work is one way of doing it. Another way of doing it is speaking. I have a mental note in my head that whenever I speak to groups, large or small, there’s somebody in this audience who needs my help and who could benefit from my services. I have a mindset that there’s going to be one or two or maybe three people who are going to come up to me after the program and say, “That resonated with me. That was great. I love to talk to you further. Can we get together?” That’s a way of doing it. I write, so publishing blogs and writing in LinkedIn is a good way to build your intellectual property. I have a weekly email blast. I invite your audience to tune into it. It’s called Resilient Wednesday. They can sign up for it on my website, CitrinConsulting.com.
You’re publishing content, both on your website and other platforms. You’re involved in volunteer work, you’re leveraging your network to create connections and develop relationships, and you’re speaking. Any other approaches or tactics that you’re using that you find are a significant contributor to the growth of your business?
Asking for referrals.
Who do you ask referrals to?
Anybody and everybody. I ask for referrals from existing clients within their business. I might be working with somebody in one section of real estate in a real estate group, and I say, “Is that there anybody in your back office that could use some of my services?” I ask for referrals from existing clients and friends. I had a friend of mine who sent a client to me who works for the Institute for Supply Chain Management. We would be doing a workshop for them. Asking friends and colleagues for referrals is a great way to grow your business. It doesn’t cost anything. People already know you do good work, and so they’re going to be more than happy to help you along the way.
A lot of people are saying, “I know referrals work,” yet they’re not actively asking for it. They’re not being proactive around them. What do you think holds most people back from proactively getting more referrals?
It’s fear of rejection. They think people are thinking they’re going to be greedy or they’re taking advantage of their friendship or that they might say ‘no’ or they don’t know anyone. If you’re concerned about misusing a referral, maybe it’s the brother-in-law of your sister or a cousin of your sister-in-law and you don’t want to appear to be taking advantage at a Thanksgiving dinner because they work for a big company in your town and they were the leadership role.
You can preface it by saying, “If I’m out of line here or if I’m inappropriate, please let me know, but I know where you work, I know the work you do, and I was wondering if there’s anybody in your business that you could refer me to who might give me some time to talk a little bit about what I do, less around what I do, but see if I might be able to help them to improve the business.” The worst they’re going to say is, “I’m a little uncomfortable doing that.” If that’s the case, don’t worry about it. You can always get out of that easily enough. You ask for permission if you’re not sure, but people generally don’t take that position.
It’s what’s going on in our own minds that most often is holding us back from getting greater results and seeing the success that we desire. Everyone should go and ask for referrals, be proactive. Don’t just sit back. There’re two kinds of referrals. There’s active and passive. Most people think of referrals as passive referrals when they come to you. There’s a lot more that you can be getting and business that you can be generating, Everyone that you know and everyone that you’ve worked with and everyone that you’ve had some connection to because you never know who they might know that can put you in touch, and there’s not much downside.
As long as you don’t abuse it. If somebody gives you a referral and it’s worked out, send them a thank you note letting them know that, “I appreciate the referral. It worked out beautifully,” but you don’t want to come to them three weeks later and say, “I heard there’s somebody else in another department. Can you refer me to them?” You might want to come back in six months or nine months or a year later or whatever seems appropriate, but you don’t want to take advantage of their good nature. That will burn them out.
Do you have an approach to manage that? How do you stay on top? As you’re building your network, there’s more and more people coming in to that. How do you remind yourself who to reach out to and when to reach out to them? Any process that you use?
One of the things that’s great about being a solo practitioner is you can keep things simple. I just keep a simple Excel spreadsheet. I highlight people in yellow who are still active, people in red who I don’t think are going to go anywhere, people in green who are good. If it’s a reminder, if I talk to somebody and they say, “Call me in six months,” I just put it in my Outlook Calendar and I have a reminder in six months, but I’ve made a note in my spreadsheet and I can reference back to that.
If you were in a position where you needed to generate a new business within one week, what would be the first thing that you would do? If you were in a position where you need to generate an extra $5,000, $10,000, $50,000, whatever it might be, one new consulting client, what would you do?
I would go to my best clients that I’ve had over the past five years, and I would reach out to them with some new information, something new I’m doing. I would let them know about that, and I’ll say, “I’d love to get together with you and talk more about this.’’ When you go to your best clients, they’re the ones who have seen the greatest value that you bring, and not only do they believe that you can help them, but they also want to help you. I’ve got a couple of clients who I talk to maybe every three or four months and I just check in with them.
I worked with them three or four years ago and I often tell them, “Once we’ve worked together, I’m always available to you,” and many of them call me up. I’ll gladly go out for coffee with them or we’ll talk on the phone for a bit. When I call them up, oftentimes they say, “It occurs to me. I’ve got somebody for you that I’d like you to work with,” or “This team isn’t performing very well. I’m wondering if you could come in and help me do a little bit of an assessment.” When you go to your best clients, they know the value you can bring, and that conversation oftentimes leads to good opportunities.
On your website and in your book, you talk about the hardships that you faced personally within your family. You’ve had two children that have passed away and I can’t even imagine how hard that would be. I’m very sorry about that. Why share this publicly? Some people would try and hide that. They would hide from anything that comes into their life that’s uncomfortable or hard in general, but you made a decision to approach it differently.
It wasn’t something that I was anxious to share with people, mostly because people are overwhelmed when you tell them that. My wife and I kid around about the fact that when people ask us how many children we have, we have to stop and think, “Should we say one, or do we say three?” One, we can explain easily. Three becomes a little trickier. It usually winds up being three, and people are appropriately solicitous about that and are understanding, but we also know it’s more difficult for people to hear that than it is for us to acknowledge it.
I’m very proud of our children. Ken, who passed in 1997 from AIDS, was courageous and brilliant in his life and how he lived his life. Our daughter Corinne, who died five years later from breast cancer, was the most grounded, spiritual, religious, and faithful person I’d ever met. I’m so proud of them that I don’t want to not have them in my life and feel like I’m talking about them. On Corinne’s birthday, her son made a post on Facebook and we all acknowledged that. Sheila and I were telling stories about Corinne. It’s difficult to do that, but that level of sharing is also a part of who I am. Being a consultant is about you sharing the truth that you know with people in a way that they can hear it. If I can’t be disclosing like that and let people see my vulnerability, I can’t expect them, or it’s not necessary for them, to share their vulnerabilities with me. That’s the power of self-disclosing, both a professional and a personal level.
The other part for me, and for my wife as well is a lot of our work is around resilience. My wife had written a book, a memoir, and her work is around grief and making grief more accessible to people and helping them to feel more comfortable in talking about it. For me, this ability about resilience is to show all of us that we can have tragic events. We all have tragic events. Nobody hasn’t experienced deaths in their family of one kind or another. There’s no scale of what’s worse or easier for anybody. They all suck, but it’s part of what we deal with. It’s helping us to face up to those realities, some of which are greater and some of which are lesser in terms of the toll they take.
I want to thank you for sharing that, because we all have vulnerabilities. We all have challenges of all different kinds, but it’s interesting how in this world of business where so many of us are hiding behind computers and technology and doing whatever we can not to get in front of people, but we break it all down. The business is about relationships and how you have a meaningful conversation with someone.
You, yourself, share things and you open up and you tell them things that otherwise you wouldn’t feel as comfortable with. By telling them, you’re allowing them to come into your world a little bit. That’s why I was very interested to hear your perspective on why you’ve chosen to do that, because many others don’t, but could benefit personally probably and to some degree professionally as well, by being more open.
That one is not one that I would necessarily share out of the box with new clients or referrals. It’s not unusual for people to find that out about me, but in a consulting relationship, that’s a little overwhelming for people to have to try to handle. It oftentimes comes up in conversations later on when it’s appropriate for me to share it or they ask a question about my children and we know each other well enough to share it in that regard. We’re cautious about who we say that to only because we know it’s difficult for other people to process. I don’t want to make people too uncomfortable as well, but there are lots of other things you can share with people.
Losing my job, for example, that was pretty traumatic as well. I was 58 years old and I had been a successful professional my entire year and now I got laid off. That was freaking me out, but everybody goes through fears. As a consultant, it’s even worse. “How’s your business going so far? Have you gotten some new referrals? Have you got new business to cover your projections for March?” If you haven’t, you start to get nervous, and those things create anxiety. As consultants, it’s good for us to be able to share that. For you as a coach and mentor to other consultants, they want to be able to use you to share those real life concerns they have. It’s not just about how to ask for referrals, it’s also about how to answer my wife when she says, “How’re the revenues coming this month?” I’m sure those are areas that you support your clients with as well.
Mindset is such an important part of every business. As many people will know, that was the topic of my book, The Elite Consulting Mind. It looks at the biggest factor in success that I’ve observed. It’s not just the strategy and the tactics, but it’s the mindset. We might instinctually know how to do something, but are we doing it? If not, what’s holding us back from doing it? In the book, I share stories both from my experience of growing multiple consulting businesses, but also working with hundreds of consultants around the world in terms of what often comes up and how to overcome those things.
We have to look at the challenges we have. In my book, The Resilience Advantage, I talk a lot about mindset and how much the negative mindset that we get into. My book focuses a lot around resilience as an alternative to our stress management model, how we think about dealing with stress in our lives, and mindset is a very big part of that. I was talking on a seminar to a group of health promotion specialists. I spoke at their conference in San Diego, and I talked about the power of mindset and how you can use little tools. One of the participants asked me, she said she worked in a residential treatment center, “How do you get the kids who are clients there to change their thinking a little bit, to have more resilient mindset?” One of the suggestions I made to her was to put signs up around the halls and in the buildings about how you want people to think.
I told her that in the movie, Rudy, one of my favorite movies about the Notre Dame Football Team, there is a sign at the Notre Dame locker room that says, “Play like champions today.” As they’re running down the steps, they’ll all hit that sign. I keep signs around my office, around things that are important to me to remind me about how to stop and think for a second on how I want to be. Prior to talking to a client, I have a message on my desk, “Remember to breathe. Ask them what their objectives are. Remember to ask about what the budget is. Remember to find out why this is important to them. Why do they want to talk to me today?” I have these questions written down, and I use them to help remind myself about the energy and mindset I want to have for this seminar. All the seminars, when I do radio shows, I write down in my Outlook, “Energy, energy, energy.” When you do that behavior, it changes your mindset. You’re changing that behavior, it changes the chemistry in your brain, so you begin to create a more powerful presence for yourself.
I want to thank you for coming on and sharing a bit of your story here with us. Richard, thanks again for coming on.
Michael, thank you very much. Great talking with you, and I look forward to maybe us doing something in the future again.
Mentioned in This Episode:
- Richard Citrin
- Humana Healthcare
- The Resilience Advantage
- The Elite Consulting Mind