Get Back to Basics

I find myself wondering how I can take my skills to the next level.  I have been an internal consultant for over 25 years. I continue to work at getting my expertise used and making a difference in my organization, my community, and the world.  As l look for experiences that will take me to the next level, I sometimes find myself seeking “Advanced” consulting skills.

What I have learned when I am struggling to use my skills and make a difference, is that I really need to go back to the basics.  World-class athletes have known for years that the key to top performance is going back to the basics. Golfers go back to their grip, stance, and set-up.  Baseball pitchers focus on their arm slot and grip on the ball. Quarterbacks work on their footwork and release point. Basketball players work on the five basics of dribbling, shooting, running, passing, and jumping. As consultants—internal and external—we need to go back to the basics of Flawless Consulting by asking ourselves these self-diagnostic questions:

1. What is the agreement I have with my clients?

2. Am I focused as much on the relationship as the technical part of the work?

3. Do I truly listen to my clients/partners and share back with them what I hear?

4. Do I give support to others by specifically sharing what I appreciate, and the impact it has on me and our work?

5. Do I ask for what I want, specifically, clearly, and with empathy?

6. Do I take time to get my own clear picture of the situation before sharing my recommendations or jumping into implementation?

7. Have I identified what my own contribution is to the exact thing I am complaining about?

We sometimes hear from participants in our Flawless Consulting Workshops that it is “too basic.”

When we explore this further, we find people think they are doing the basics of consulting, but in reality, they understand the basics but aren’t implementing the basics.

We can always advance our skills in the area of our technical expertise, but our consulting skills just need more practice with the basics.  When I coach individuals who are trying to get their expertise used, and they indicate they need more advanced skills, I discover several things:

  • They don’t put into words what they are experiencing.

  • They don’t listen and share with their clients what they hear.

  • They don’t ask for what they want.

  • They don’t recognize and manage resistance in themselves or their clients.

  • They don’t regularly share their appreciations (support) with others.

  • They quickly jump to implementation without taking the time to get a clear picture (discovery) of the situation.

  • They don’t provide feedback to others to get a collaborative decision to proceed to a solution that will be sustainable.

    Intellectually, Flawless Consulting is very basic.  It’s easy to understand and many people would say it is common sense.  Unfortunately, it isn’t common practice in many organizations. The hard part is implementing the basics.

    Here are the basic “Be’s”:

  • Be Authentic

  • Be Direct (Put into words what you are experiencing)

  • Be Compassionate (Empathetic)

  • Be a Model for the organization you want to create

    If you are struggling with getting your expertise used and you want to improve your business and personal relationships, get back to the basics!


Jeff Evans is a Vice President at Designed Learning and oversees delivery, product quality, and managing our team of international consultants. He’s been partnering with Designed Learning for over 25 years. He’s delivered training in more than ten countries to a diverse set of organizations and participants, including engineers, managers, manufacturing executives, healthcare professionals, human resources and IT.

Developing Flawless Clients

Flawless Consulting is the popular workshop and book by Peter Block, which are designed to develop skills that increase an internal consultant’s ability to have a strong and positive impact on their client’s business results. Individuals in staff positions such as human resources, training, organizational development, information systems, finance, safety, purchasing, and engineering have all benefited from Flawless Consulting over the years.

Recently, I was delivering a workshop to one such group: Human Resources. Near the end of the second day and after much exploration of the Flawless Consulting process and skills, a participant asked, “I love all this content for myself as a consultant. It would be great if my client could hear it as well. Do you have a class for them . . . on how to be a flawless client?”

After some laughter and agreement in the room, we talked about this idea of the flawless client. Who are they? What do they do or not do that makes them flawless? How can we as consultants help?

In his book Flawless Consulting, Block asserts that a consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, group, or organization, but with no power to make changes or implement programs. Most people in staff or support roles are really consultants, even if they don’t call themselves one. And if we take that thinking further, many of our clients may find themselves in the consultant role, too.

Most professionals are working in cross-functional, cross-business groups and other work models that do not maintain strict vertical business units grouped by function and geography. So, a client today may be a consultant tomorrow.


If we agree that any client may also be a consultant, the answer to how we help them becomes a whole lot simpler. Here are some ideas.

  • While we don’t have a workshop called Flawless Clients, we do have Flawless Consulting. Anyone inside your organization who is in a position to influence without the power to make the changes would be an excellent candidate. Invite them to attend—and if they do, get together to talk about what they learned and how it can help your own relationship moving forward. Many leaders/clients have attended the workshop and found great value in the experience.

  • Remember, we learn from each other—directly or indirectly. By being a Flawless Consultant, you are inviting your clients to learn from you through what you say and what you do. Have a discussion about the consulting process—specifically, as part of your conversations to lay the groundwork for how you will work together, not just what work you will do. Encourage questions and be intentional in sharing what you are doing and why. Throughout the process, ask the question, “What did we learn from that?” Push the pause button to reflect before moving on to the next task or step.

  • In any consulting agreement, maximum client involvement will occur to the extent that you involve them. Our goal as Flawless Consultants is to be collaborative, where the engagement is a 50/50 partnership with our client to solve a given problem. When collaborative, the client must be actively involved in data gathering and analysis, setting goals and developing action plans, and finally, sharing responsibility for success or failure. When we are collaborative, problem-solving becomes a joint undertaking: the better the odds for success after the consultant has left and the more that is learned.

When we are being authentic with our clients and completing the business of consulting in each phase, we are being Flawless. Even so, it won’t always mean our clients become flawless too. According to Block, “Your job, as a consultant, is to present information as simply, directly, and assertively as possible, and to complete the tasks of each phase of the consultation. That’s all there is to do, and it’s within each of us to do that perfectly.” Do that perfectly, and perhaps your clients will follow.

Beverly Crowell is an experienced facilitator, speaker, thought leader, and author specializing in the areas of business operations, organization, employee and human resources development.

A “Flawless” Conversation with your Boss

This is the most important ongoing conversation that you have in your organization. It sets the guidelines for how you and your boss will work together. It is the beginning of a partnership with your boss and a step toward empowerment for you.

Most of us believe that we are already having such conversations. I know I did. Yet when I dig deeper with people, I find that most conversations were as a benevolent parent (boss) to a compliant child (employee), not as partners.

First step: you will have to initiate this meeting. Do not wait for your boss. He or she has a lot going on so such a conversation isn’t on their radar. Prepare for the conversation by getting clear about the situation you are facing and what you want from your boss.

The contracting meeting from Flawless Consulting offers an excellent format with a couple of variations. Here are the key elements of the conversation.

Describe the situation. This is an opportunity to take ownership of your work, projects, etc., and describe how you want to complete the work. It is being proactive. Consider statements like:

  • Here’s what I see happening…

  • This is what I am working on…

  • Here’s what I’m planning to do…

  • These are the boundaries and constraints as I see them…

  • This is the priority I see for this work/project…

  • What information do you have that might change any of this?

Share your wants/offers. “The support, resources, understanding I want from you is… (be specific)”

Ask the boss for his/her wants/offers. “What do you want from me?”

Ask for concerns. “What concerns do you have about how I plan to proceed? What’s at risk for you, Boss?”

Summarize your conversation and offer to send an email outlining what you discussed.

I remember my first conversation like this with my boss. I was a nervous wreck anticipating all kinds of terrible endings, Once we got started, it became surprisingly pleasant… two adults talking as colleagues. Over the next few years, our relationship changed more to a partnership, then to a trusted advisor.

I learned to initiate these conversations in situations, like whenever I…

  • Had a new assignment

  • Planned something new

  • Attended training or development workshops

  • Learned about something that should be brought to the boss’ attention

  • Changed job assignments

In the Flawless Consulting Skills workshops, I began to ask participants to schedule a conversation with their bosses to discuss the workshop content and what they wanted to continue their learning.

So, here’s my encouragement to you. Schedule a conversation with your boss over the next five business days about something you’re working on, and go have a talk using the format above. It will take courage and it will change your relationship. Give it a try.

I’d love to hear your stories. Drop me a note. Let me know how it’s going.

Charles L Fields was a highly acclaimed Senior Consultant at Designed Learning and a lover of life. He traveled the world by car, rail, plane, and ship, watched the sunrise on Croagh Patrick, and set on Victoria Peak, weathered a perfect storm in the Pacific, bartered for a darbuka in the Grand Bazaar, prayed at Lord Nelson’s Sarcophagus, ate lunch in the oldest restaurant in the world. His prolific and thought-provoking writing contributed to the design and re-design of many DL products, including Flawless Consulting, Empowerment, and Stewardship. Charlie shared his passion for this body of work in over 25 countries. His impact is a blessing.

Collaborative Consulting: Three Degrees of Difficulty

Consulting—especially collaborative consulting—requires artful presence and, consequently, is inherently difficult. It requires us to manage at three levels simultaneously: the consulting process, our relationship with the client, and ourselves.

In my view, Peter Block’s description of a practitioner-based process represents one of the great contributions of Flawless Consulting. Collaborative consulting requires paying attention to the process while simultaneously being willing to improvise within it. This represents the first degree of difficulty.

W. Edwards Deming, in his quality control work (and I think he is not fully appreciated as an OD practitioner), discusses “natural” vs “special” variation. Collaborative consulting has a lot of natural variation resulting from organizational complexity and the uncertainty of human behavior. The problem with behavioral “science” is that the standard deviations are significant. Little we do is 100% predictable, yet there is an underlying process we as consultants are responsible for knowing and following.

Can I use the contracting conversation to open the doors to discovery and the meeting for decision? Can I renegotiate my wants when the scope and scale of the work changes? Can I confront the client with how his behavior affects the situation we are discussing? Can I identify the real client?

Each client is unique. Do I have the interpersonal flexibility to adapt to and connect with my clients? Can I interact with compassion and authenticity? So, managing the client relationship in a way that engenders trust and openness represents the second degree of difficulty.

Personally, I apply Carl Jung’s principles (and teach them) as part of my consulting and coaching practice. My personal favorite is Insights Discovery—but the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DiSC, and others all rest on the same foundation. What clues to the client rest in the physical appearance of her/his office? Is it neatly arranged and orderly with a lot of manuals? I’m probably going to need to be precise and detail oriented in my approach. Is it more casual with toys and a playful feel? I probably need to dial up my extroverted-feeling energy. In adapting, I have to remind myself that introversion/extroversion, thinking/feeling, sensing/intuition are preferences I’ve developed and not hard-wired characteristics.

 If I want to connect (and we teach the principle of connection before content in our work), I will be more successful if I can move closer to the client’s preferences.

Managing myself in the face of client behavior, emotional resistance, lack of responsiveness, indecisiveness, and intellectual challenges represents the third degree of difficulty. For me personally, attitude toward authority is something I must continually monitor. There is a part of me that wants to find those who have power wrong simply because they have power. There is a part of me that wants to be viewed as capable. There is a part of me that wants to be seen as helpful. When I indulge any of these wants uncritically and without awareness, I can get in trouble as a consultant. If I am sitting in judgment, true connection will be unlikely. If I want to be seen as knowledgeable, I can get into expert mode. If I am intimidated by the client’s power, I might withhold valuable feedback or lapse into a pair of hands work because it feels safer.

How we handle these personal issues materially affects how we do our work. Let me conclude with a reference to Shakespeare. There are clients who want to seduce us into offering “expert” advice that supports their view of the world. This is captured in Julius Caesar in Act 2, Scene 1, when Metellus says:

“Oh, let us have him, for his silver hairs
Will purchase us a good opinion,
And buy men’s voices to commend our deeds
It shall be said his judgement ruled our hands.
Our youths and wildness shall no whit appear,
But all be buried in his gravity.”

My translation: the change agents (Metellus, Brutus, and their confederates) recruit an “expert consultant” (gray-haired Cicero) to cover for their insecurity and sell their change strategy (assassinate Caesar).

Jeff has been affiliated with Designed Learning for more than 20 years.

Having held leadership positions in marketing, sales, organizational development, and HR, Jeff brings years of large-system experience in internal consulting to his work with Designed Learning. Jeff believes that when the human spirit thrives, organizations thrive as well.