Partnership – Great goal; Insufficient word

As we work and live with others, the word partnership seems to be a common goal. We want to build business partnerships, partner better, and we want others to partner with us.  Partnership is a good word and a worthy goal. 

Questions I ask Myself

  • What does partnership look like?
  • Who do I want to partner with?
  • How do I achieve partnership?
  • What can I specifically do to build partnerships?

These questions seem easy to answer on the surface, but I find that the goal of partnership eludes me more often than I want. I have conversations with others, and we seem to want a partnership together, but most often, I don’t invest the time to understand and act on what partnership could look like.

For example, one of my former bosses asked me to help her organization build “strategic business partnerships” with their internal business partners. I loved the idea and started changing the way I interfaced with other leaders. First, I asked more questions. Also, I delayed my recommendations until I knew more about the issue they were facing. I worked to co-create possible solutions with them instead of quickly implementing their solutions or mine. It didn’t take long for one of these leaders to call my boss to complain that I wasn’t being cooperative and that I was delaying decisions.

My boss came to me and asked what I was doing. When I said I was trying to build “strategic business partnerships,” she said, “That is what we want, but don’t upset the clients. Just do what they ask you to do”. It’s clear my boss and I had different ideas on what these partnerships would look like.

Some Partnership Challenges

Building partnerships is not complex. In fact, it can be simple to understand. We create a common understanding of what we are going to do together (short-term or long-term) and we share what we want from each other and negotiate an agreement.

The challenge in building partnerships comes when I actually have the conversation. I may even avoid the conversation altogether. I get in my own way. My desire to be right, to minimize my risk, to be safe, and to gain a predictable outcome get in the way. There is also a sense of urgency to get things done and act. Unfortunately, nothing about partnerships is predictable or risk-free, and urgency is the enemy of quality – the quality of the outcome and the quality of the relationship.

So, What Do We Do?

There are many aspects to building partnerships. I have found the easiest and most beneficial is to minimize assumptions and vagueness in our language. When we ask for something we want, we need to be specific. I had a mentor years ago who told me to avoid “goodness” words. That statement itself is vague, so I asked, “What’s a goodness word?”. He said, “Goodness words describe things we want, and they are good (things like support, buy-in, partnership, respect, etc.), but they are not sufficient for a meaningful agreement.”

The antidote for the goodness word is to ask myself and share with you, “What does it look like?”. If you are giving me support, this is what you would be doing. If we are going to have a partnership, this is how we will treat each other. This is what respect looks like to me.

Asking these next-level questions takes time. I need to pause and get specific with myself and others. I assume you know what I mean, and I think I know what you mean. These assumptions are recipes for poor agreements. I am learning to share with others the behaviors I am looking for and to ask them what behaviors they want from me. Having this next level of conversation is a small investment in time that pays big dividends with agreements that last and partnerships that thrive.


Build better partnerships by putting your focus on relational skills with Flawless Consulting. Attend a workshop today. 

The Three Consulting Roles: How to Stop Fixing and Start Collaborating

As a Human Resources (HR) or Support Services professional, you have expertise that is critical for the survival and growth of your organization. You have expertise, and you can offer it by playing anyone of three consulting roles at work.

Unfortunately, you may often find yourself being underutilized, overworked with transactional tasks, and being told to “fix” things and people. Is this true for you?

Do You Find Yourself Frustrated When…

  • Your leaders come to you at the last minute and tell you to implement something?
  • You aren’t involved early enough in the process to influence decisions and share your ideas?
  • Most of your day is spent putting out “fires” and expending energy on non-strategic issues?
  • You have so much more expertise to offer the organization, but they don’t appreciate it or even ask you for it?
  • You are asked to “handle” tough conversations, “problem” people, and fix them?

This is probably not the way you want to be treated. Instead, you want to have your expertise utilized, and be treated as a trusted advisor.

The issue is that others, including managers and clients, don’t know how to best utilize your expertise, so they default to the quickest option: tell you what to do.

But There Is Good News

You may be able to dislodge others from a default way of treating you at work. You can adjust your own approach by leveraging the three consulting roles to have your expertise better utilized.

But before you do, be aware that you may have unintentionally trained your leaders to treat you the way they do.

Here’s what I mean.

Many leaders, in the spirit of customer satisfaction, often operate with the mentality that “the customer is always right.” In this frame, they utilize you for “fixing” things and implementing their ideas in order to resolve problems.

Leaders then create conditions where you end up agreeing to do what clients tell you to do, even when it’s not the best thing for them or the organization. And if you attempt to push back or disagree with your clients, they get upset and even escalate a complaint to your boss.

There is a better way

You have the power and opportunity to change the conversations you are having with clients and the leaders in your organization. You can start by discussing the topic of how to best utilize your expertise by intentionally establishing the role you’ll play in the engagement.

We have found that HR and Support Service professionals can fall into three consulting roles.

The 3 Consulting Roles

The Three Consulting Roles

  1. Expert Role – They count on you to fix things with your expertise, and they don’t want you to be involved in the diagnosis or solution. “Make it go away” is their mantra.
  2. Pair of Hands Role – They come to you with their solution, and they want you to implement it. “Don’t ask questions, just get it done for me.” You end up being an “order taker” and implementing suboptimal solutions. Sometimes these solutions can cause harm to people and the organization.
  3. Collaborative Role – You share the responsibility and accountability with the leaders to diagnose and develop solutions. Your expertise is equally utilized along with their expertise.

Learn More

If you want to know which of the three consulting roles you and/or your teams are playing at work, then we invite you to take our free Role Orientation Quiz.

Much of the growth of consulting has been riding the wave of the technology explosion combined with the trend toward downsizing. Most large organizations have found it more profitable to shrink and merge and outsource jobs. This creates the challenge of having fewer people doing more work, and the consulting industry has been the beneficiary of this movement.

The demand for consulting services has also grown because of the interest in quality improvement, better customer service, and changing cultures toward more engaged workplaces. All of these goals are worthy, but what I want to explore is how the commercialization of our services ended up subverting their intent.

Reengineering is a good example of an area of practice that had power and relevance. Its intent was inarguable but something shifted when the idea became commercialized and popular. Reengineering became the rage and consulting firms began to make promises that were unsustainable. After a good run, the work fell of its own weight.

The reengineering craze reached a point where whatever change we had in mind was called reengineering. Every department thought it was reengineering itself. The energy was more about becoming modern than becoming better. Reengineering became synonymous with restructuring and was sold by the large accounting and consulting firms with promises of a 30 to 50 percent return on the investment.

The dark side of reengineering, which threatened the whole profession, is that the promises made to sell the work either were never fulfilled or could finally be achieved only by eliminating jobs on a wide scale. The goal of restructuring the work process for the sake of the customer was more often than not unrealized. In fact, many of the users of reengineering began to reverse their efforts because they found the concept unworkable.

Reengineering,  like the more current desire to be lean and agile,  is a good example of two larger consulting complexities: how consultants take advantage of what is in vogue and how we pursue covert purposes.

When an idea is fashionable it becomes, almost by definition, a cosmetic solution. When we offer a service primarily because clients want it, we have chosen commerce over care. If we were strictly a business you might say, What’s the problem? The customer is always right. We only gave them what they asked for. Being also a service function, though, means that something more is due to the client.

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.

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.

Influencing Without Direct Control (I Want Power. I Choose Influence.)

How powerful am I?  What is power? Are you empowered?  Power over? Power by? Power with? If only I had more power!  Do I really want more power, or do I want more influence? Is there a difference?

As I think about all of the relationships of my life, power seems to have a major role.  As a child, my parents had power over me. As a student, teachers and administrators had power over me.  As a new employee, I gave my boss and my senior colleagues power over me. As a poor citizen in my city, I gave power to government and institutions.  We have learned that the world works on a class system which relies on the belief that we must have people who have power and people who are subservient to power.  In the subservient role, I seek safety and control, yet I give up freedom and choice.

Is having more power the answer?  Why do I want more power? What will I do if I get more power?  I believe our search for power is the wrong search. What I want is influence with others so that I am heard, and my ideas are utilized.

I want to influence in all aspects of my life.  My family, my friends, my colleagues, my boss, and my fellow citizens in my community.

 When I seek to influence, I claim my own power. Not power over others, but power with others, and power to contribute.  I can co-create shared endeavours with others by valuing their expertise and laying claim to my own expertise.

As a citizen in a community or an employee in an organization, I can claim my power by not giving it to someone else or attempting to take it from someone.  There will always be someone with more money, more status, and more experience than me. I, however, have expertise and other contributions to offer every relationship.  I am unique, and I claim this uniqueness while honoring your expertise and uniqueness. The brand new employee, the person living on the fringe of society, both have unique expertise, perspectives, and gifts to offer.

I have come to realize that I give power away and deny my own power too often.  I regularly give power to others, especially if I perceive they have power over me, and sometimes I use it as an excuse not to own my own power.  Influencing without direct control—that is my everyday challenge and goal. I want to influence because I have expertise and other capacities to offer the world.  It’s not only technical expertise, it is relational expertise. Influencing without direct control is the premise behind Peter Block’s groundbreaking work, “Flawless Consulting: Getting your expertise used.”

For the first time, Designed Learning, Peter Block’s training organization, will be offering their groundbreaking Flawless Consulting workshop in London as a public offering.  Join me and my colleague, Andi Roberts, as we guide you through the key elements of building collaborative relationships through the Flawless Consulting process.

Register today to learn how to:

  • Accelerate building trust by clearly understanding what people want.

  • Articulating what you want.

  • Deal with challenging partners.

  • Solidify agreements to achieve sustainable results that are good for individuals, teams, organizations, and the community.

  • Learn how to assertively claim your own power by influencing others and seeking to be influenced by others.

    This will build relationships and will ultimately result in successful, sustainable communities and organizations. I look forward to seeing you there, or on some other workshop in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I wish you well as you grow your capacity to influence without direct control.

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.