In the Flawless Consulting Skills workshops, we stress that you’ll want to change your conversations . . . the way you talk to your clients, your boss, and to each other. We see that new conversations will move you toward partnership. For example, in our initial conversation with our clients, our goal is to get an agreement on what we are going to do and how we are going to work together. We call this the Contracting Meeting. As consultants, we want to be clear about what we want to help the client be successful.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Empowerment is a confusing word. It’s also known as being authentic, taking ownership, choosing accountability, partnership, or being collaborative. It is the source of many questions like: “What is it all about? How do I become empowered? How do I empower my employees? How do I hold them accountable?”
Empowerment is about a mindset, an approach to how we work with and relate to others. It is a mindset that I choose—a mindset that believes, “I am the result of choices I make and I am accountable for the outcomes.”