Consulting Complexities: Final Thoughts on What to Do

The promise of consulting is a commitment to care and to serve. We promise to act in the interest of another, the client. This series of blog posts explored some of the complexities consultants face that interfere with our capacity to serve, even in the face of our best intentions. With this post, we wind the series up with a few more thoughts on what to do.

Show How Everybody Counts

The whole system is your client. All parts of it need to be supported to learn and to be fully informed. Ensure that the client manager making the decision to hire you is as vulnerable to the effects of the change effort as those at other levels of the organization. If a project begins as a way to control or change others, it will be very difficult to leave this intention behind, regardless of how inclusive and participative the process. Real change has to be chosen; it is a voluntary act. If we are in the business of joining with the top to change others, we have become an agent of top management—and a part of the problem. We have become a stealth operation that will eventually undermine trust and make it harder the next time around.
Ask whether you would be willing for all members of the client organization to be witnesses to the selling and planning conversations you have with the client—a fresh-air test to the promises we make and the plans we develop. Meeting this test would change many conversations. Plus, it would be harder to blame people not in the room and harder to plan for the transformation of others.

Leave It All Behind

Commit yourself to the concept of building capacity. Clients have the capacity to learn and create for themselves the future they thought they needed a consultant to provide. Your job is fundamentally to be an educator, not a problem solver.

You may have to solve problems in the short run, but over time you need to develop ways for people to learn about your expertise. Be a support system for your clients’ self-sufficiency.

And Finally, Forgive

In thinking about these conflicts and paradoxes, forgiveness is required. No one can fully live according to his or her beliefs. That is why we are called humans. In fact that is why, in the first consulting act, God suggested to the serpent that he chat with Eve. By eating the apple, she and Adam lost their paradise and gained their humanity and all the freedom and flaws that go with it.

What we can do with our freedom is tell the truth, at least to ourselves, about the choices we make. If we take business because we need the money, so be it. If we over-promise because that is the only way things will move forward, if we seek too much approval from the top, if we are swept along with a fad and find ourselves mimicking the language of others—all of these are forgivable.

What is hard to forgive is self-delusion and positioning ourselves as a cut above our clients and others who do our work. This is pride and hubris, and it seems to come with our working papers. It is our own awareness and courage to see who we are that enables us to offer the service and care that is the best of the profession.