As an internal consultant, I often hear messages embedded within the culture and hierarchy of the organization about how my work should be conducted. Pressure to be strategic in relationships, to speak in an indirect way, and to ignore what I’m experiencing at the moment defines my dilemma. Mandates to “never say no” and expectations to convert difficult clients make internal consulting a high-risk endeavor. What I agree to can limit my expertise getting used or amplify the possibility my consulting will be of lasting service.
“We need to run this like a business!” – presumes more control, oversight, and predictability is what is needed. Agreeing to be controlled by this false safety that dehumanizes the culture in the workforce overlooks the most important element of this statement: We! The route to genuine change is less obvious than a list and some milestones. More prescription is what ensures tomorrow will be no more different than yesterday. Relationship is the delivery system of anything we’re looking to accomplish. Agreeing to answer, “What will people do differently because of anything we do together?” invites an exploration of answers that establishes a collaborative relationship and builds client commitment.
As internal consultants, we’re often handed something someone else has started. In response to my want to have a more collaborative partnership with a client, my boss conveyed, “The traditional sense of consulting is not what is needed here.” Ah! The importance of making agreements with the client and my boss within a triangular contract. It is easier for me to agree to do the bidding of my boss as a pair of hands or as an expert. It is better for me to agree to our exchange of what we want of each other. A workable agreement between me and my boss is crucial to a successful client agreement. Just because being collaborative may not always be possible is not a reason to avoid authentically expressing in words what I want to get my expertise used. What future agreements could my boss learn to make with clients through agreements I make with her?
While facilitating a request for my team’s services, a relationship manager cautioned, “This client likes to think they are special and is known for getting whatever they want.” By agreeing to this, I’m confronted with how I am creating the world I’m living in. How might the client work within agreements where consultants have not directly expressed what they want? Could my belief in, and worse, retelling of stories about ogres and angels be contributing to the problem, prohibiting my expertise from being used? I can agree to look beyond my heroic wish to be all-powerful and successful, reflected in my own concerns of relevance, competence, and self-esteem. To see what is human about clients and how they have similar concerns about losing control, becoming vulnerable, and making a commitment.
We can agree to identify the high self-trust choices we all have as internal consultants. Agree to be ourselves or agree to conform to the expectations we think others have of us. Agree to play roles and adopt internally alien behaviors and represent some loss of ourselves or agree to present information as simply, directly, and assertively as possible. We can agree to recycle familiar messages or agree to engage people together in a conversation they didn’t expect to have. We can agree not to collude and instead embark on a high-adventure path, operating in a realm of greater risk and reward while still earning the respect and appreciation of our clients, where we give up some safety in service of increased power, impact, and influence.
By JP Tier