Signs That You May Be an Internal Consultant

You’re a what? A consultant! The word conjures many thoughts – most of them negative. I’ve heard the jokes, seen the cartoons, and watched the movies.

I never thought of myself as a consultant. I was a director of training for engineering, not a consultant. The people who worked for me were technicians and engineers not consultants. The people I worked with were engineering managers, not clients.

Over the years, as I trained people in Flawless Consulting skills, I heard that comment over and over, “I never thought of myself as a consultant.”

To help people discover their role, I offer the following nine signs that you may be in an internal consulting role. (When you read “others,” I am referring to people outside your area.)

1. You have a professional area of expertise.

2. You work in an area that provides support to other departments or divisions, i.e. Administrative services, business process improvement, communications, engineering, finance, human resources, it, law, learning and development, OD, project management, purchasing, recruiting, or training.

3. You have words like advisor, analyst, business partner, HR, improvement, IT, performance, process, productivity, relationship, research, safety, specialist, strategist, or training in your job title.

4. You refer to the others you serve as business partners, line managers, customers, and clients.

5. You work to help others solve their problems with sustainable solutions.

6. You find that others often come to you for assistance “at the last moment.”

7. You find that others’ expectations are often not clear and hard to understand.

8. You feel that others sometimes don’t see your value or credibility.

9. You find it hard to “sell” your recommendations to others.

Now if you answered “Yes” to at least four of these questions, you are probably an internal consultant.

Don’t fret, consulting can be a great life if you change your thinking. That’s what happened to me when I attended a Flawless Consulting skills workshop years ago. During that first workshop, my thinking began to change. I realized that much of what I did was internal consulting and that I needed to develop some new skills to be successful.

For example, I started listening more than I talked, I asked questions instead of making statements, and I slowed down to understand my client’s emotional reactions instead of getting frustrated or angry. In a short time, I built trust and credibility in my relationships that I had not had before.

After a few months of practicing Flawless Consulting skills, relationships at work changed for the better. I became a partner to my clients, not just someone to arrange training events. After a year, Engineering became more open, more cooperative, more productive. Within two years I enjoyed working with all departments of the company and several of their external customers. I developed an internal consulting practice and became a trusted advisor to a few key leaders. I thrived not just survived.

– This article was written by Charles L. Fields, a proponent and practitioner of Designed Learning, for many years.  He was a gifted facilitator, mentor, and coach to participants and fellow affiliate consultants of Designed Learning.  We lost Charlie several years ago to cancer, but his spirit and inspiration live on in our lives and in his writing.

Getting Beyond the Smoke and Mirrors

In Flawless Consulting, author Peter Block writes, “Most consulting projects get started because managers feel pain. When the organization feels the pain, managers start to describe for themselves why the pain exists.” It should be no surprise then that projects defined from an initial place of pain may be a lot of “smoke and mirrors” designed to unintentionally draw attention away from what is really happening inside an organization.

In magical illusions, smoke and mirrors are a classic technique designed to obscure or embellish the truth of a situation. And while managers may not intentionally be obscuring or embellishing the truth of a situation, those experienced in the Flawless Consulting model know what is stated initially is rarely what is at the heart of a problem.

To get at the heart of the problem, you need to first discover the underlying dimensions of the situation by analyzing what you’ve heard initially against what still is to be learned. To do so, look first at the top layer which is usually described as the presenting problem – what the manager or client believes is at core of the issue. It may or may not be all smoke and mirrors at this point, but flawless consultants dig deeper by looking at the middle and core layers of the problem to understand how others in the organization are contributing to the problem and how the client may be contributing as well. The process of doing so is called Discovery.

In the Flawless Consulting process, gaining a clear picture of the problem begins only after the initial meeting with the client and contracting around how to best move forward. Once an agreement is reached, the consultant works to discover the underlying dimensions of the situation. They do so by asking the client and others in the organization to restate the problem as they see it and then go further by being direct and asking:

  • How are others’ in the organization contributing to the problem?

  • How are you contributing to the problem?

  • What’s the future you want to see?

The objective of Discovery is to understand the dimensions of the problem and describe it in a way that is enlightening and actionable – something someone can do something about.

This initial inquiry will help direct where you look next to discover how the problem is being managed … or not.

In medicine, it’s easy to understand the difference between treating the symptoms or curing a condition. A broken leg hurts and pain killers may temporarily ease the pain, but you need a completely different treatment plan to heal the leg. In organizations, it’s easy to want to treat the symptoms of a problem for even a momentary respite from the technical or interpersonal issues causing the pain. Experience tells us however; the pain will return.

Flawless consulting provides a roadmap to get a picture of what is really happening inside an organization and then make recommendations on how to address it. By shedding light on all the layers underneath, the mystery is revealed and a clear picture emerges on how to solve the problem so it stays solved.