Tips And Traps For Internal Consultants
Are you in a position to influence others, but have no authority to make changes or implement programs? If so, then you meet the definition of a “consultant” as found in Peter Block’s book, Flawless Consulting.
As internal consultants, we want to help solve our clients’ problems. We work to have our expertise used and our recommendations implemented. We strive to build and maintain partnerships with our clients.
Too many times, the results we get fall short of what we want. Too often, we end up with no-win consulting situations. Flawless Consulting outlines the five phases of consulting—Contracting, Diagnosis, Feedback, Implementation, and Evaluation—and offers a process that will minimize those no-win/no-fun situations.
Contracting, Diagnosis, and Feedback are considered the preliminary events. Consulting project failure can usually be traced to failure in one of these phases. What follows is a brief description of the purpose of each phase, with some tips and traps to help you be more successful.
The purpose of the Contracting phase is to negotiate roles and responsibilities, and to reach an agreement on how to proceed with the project.
TIP: State YOUR wants for the project. Clients usually spell out what THEY want from a project, but as consultants, we frequently don’t! Answer this question before your next contracting meeting—”What do I want front the client to make this a successful project?” We usually don’t get what we want because we don’t ask!
TRAP: Solving the client’s problem during the contracting meeting! Our tendency is to listen and prescribe immediately. We often think that this is what the client wants—immediate solutions. But a rush to solution trivializes the client’s situation. We need good active listening skills here, not quick solutions.
During the Diagnosis phase, we attempt to draw our own clear, independent picture of “what’s happening” and identify how the client is contributing to the situation.
TIP: Focus on things that the client CAN control. This helps build commitment. Too often, clients claim helplessness because we identify things that need to be fixed but are beyond the client’s control.
TRAP: Working on the technical side of the problem only! There are two sides to every problem—the technical side and the “how is it being managed?” side. Here’s an example…
Technical: The organization wants to implement a new strategic planning process.
How it is managed: The people involved in planning feel that this is another “flavor of the month”… here we go again… another change to the process.
You can go through the motions of teaching them how to use the new process, but unless you get to the level of dealing with their commitment, nothing will actually change.
The Feedback phase usually causes the most anxiety, but it is where we earn our money! In many instances, the client’s perception of the problem is different from the REAL problem. So, we have to tell the client what we’ve learned, deal with their reservations, AND get a decision to act.
TIP: Use language that clearly and simply describes the situation, identifies the client’s contribution, and includes the impact on business. Such language will help focus on the real issues and prevent drifting into non-productive discussions.
TRAP: “Dumping all your data” and expecting the client to sift through it for the relevant elements. We tend to love what we’ve learned and present ALL of it to the client. We also tend to lace it with the jargon of the day. Remember, our task is to present a clear, simple picture.
A final thought…
In Flawless Consulting, Block likens our role as consultants to that of a courtroom. We could act as the judge, jury, defendant, prosecutor, etc. So, a final TIP: Act as a Witness to the situation, reflecting only what you see going on. TRAP: Acting as Judge and Jury (and sometimes executioner!) destroys trust and credibility.
Think about it… read the book… practice consulting “flawlessly”!
Charles L. Fields
Charles L Fields, Senior Consultant at Designed Learning, has traveled the world by car, rail, plane, and ship; watched the sun rise on Croagh Patrick and set on Victoria Peak; weathered a perfect storm in the Pacific; bartered for a darbuka in the Grand Bazaar; prayed at Lord Nelson’s Sarcophagus; eaten lunch in the oldest restaurant in the world; and presented Flawless Consulting and Empowerment workshops in over 25 countries. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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