Are You Consulting Without a Safety Net?
What if we worked with clients in ways that could better leverage our expertise, foster trust sooner, galvanize stronger commitment, and make consulting more rewarding? I find these outcomes more likely occur when I weave a safety net in asking clients for what I want and voice them during contracting conversations:
- I want you to, at any time, talk with me about how we are working together. This simple yet powerful statement opens the choice for clients to speak authentically about what is important to them and what challenges they face—affirming that my relationship with the client is fundamental to solving the problem. I’m now on the hook for asking clients about their doubts and concerns, naming their resistance, ensuring they feel seen and heard, and expressing what they are doing that is useful to me.
- I want you to talk to me first, before talking to my boss. Waste of time and erosion of trust occur when we go around instead of directly to sources. With a client’s agreement to #1 above, it makes sense that I be the one talked to first. I always explain that if they go to my boss about something I should hear, my boss will ask, “Have you talked to JP about this?” because my boss and I have made this same agreement.
- I want you to make the decision when others on this project come to a standstill/impasse. In every project I’ve been a part of, people have gotten stuck. When that happens, this agreement reminds clients that the decision to get unstuck is theirs to make.
- I want you to agree that I will conduct my own discovery to gain a clear picture of what’s going on. My unique value to the client is my ability to see clearly how the problem is being managed. Without my independent perspective of the underlying dimensions of the problem, I’m left solving only the technical/business aspect of the problem—the presenting problem. The resolution of the real problem requires a change in thinking and action on the part of the client. By looking at the problem in a way that the client can’t, I’m able to identify the impact that goals, processes, and relationships have on the problem—how they keep the presenting problem from being solved. Without this agreement, clients have every right to assume I’ll skip the Discovery and Feedback Phases and move directly into Implementation.
- I want you to consider what role you need to play to bring about desired changes and how you may be contributing to the problem. This underscores why solving the presenting problem is not enough and invites our shared exploration. By encouraging early ownership and commitment, this minimizes surprises during feedback and points to what clients have the most control over. Rather than solving problems for clients, I set myself up to help clients solve problems themselves.
What I want from clients above stems from my consulting experiences and lessons learned. (Even today, what is challenging in a relationship can be attributed to what I have not asked for.) Although each relationship and project is unique, I voice this set during every contracting conversation to mitigate what I don’t want. These are in the interest of making sure the project is successful—not to satisfy my own personal whims and wishes. What would it sound like to state clearly and simply what you want from a client?
As humans, our reactions are strongly influenced by the environment we inhabit, and the same holds true for our clients. Without a safety net, we risk doing to the client as an expert or doing for the client as a pair of hands. What’s possible when, as Flawless Consultants, our decisions are grounded in the security of our safety net? By fostering an environment of relatedness and connection, we offer insurance for working with our clients, allowing our expertise to shine. What does your safety net of wants look like?
Article by JP Tier