Guest Post by Antar Salim (you can learn more about Antar at the end of this post)
Consultative activities and organizational development interventions can be riddled with flaws and drawbacks. On the surface, it may appear to be a negative statement, but many consultants can learn from these trammels and create capacities to better serve their clients. Whether you are dealing with business management, marketing and sales, finance or human resources consulting; following this article will teach the taboos that many consultants make and provides insight into how to avoid them in the future.
There are a number of errors that a consultant can make that hampers their ability to serve their clients. There are a number of complications encountered by consultants, including colluding with clients, placing financial gain ahead of the client’s needs, and under estimating the importance of implementation. Each type of flaw falls into one of two categories: a) purpose and b) partnership.
Let’s explore the broad component of purpose first. There are four elements of purpose:
- Defining the problem in the consultant’s terms
- Focusing on the problem, not the people
- Realizing the process is as important as the product
- Neglecting to revisit the purpose (consulting today and high impact consulting)
The challenge associated with defining the problem in the consultant’s terms is that it marginalizes the client. At the core of consulting is a focus on the client and the purpose is to ameliorate the client’s system to better handle similar challenges in the future, therefore it is imperative that the client views the problem in their own terms so that they better understand the underlining issues and are better prepared to address them.
A common flaw amongst consultants and more technical individuals is the need to focus on the problem not the people. A classic business paradigm suggests there are two types of individuals, those that are task oriented and those that are relationship oriented. The purpose for highlighting the differences is not to connote which one is better, but to stress that consultants need to focus on both elements. In doing so, consultants are more likely to appreciate how the change efforts will affect the people and the people are more likely to respond is a positive manner. Richard Beckhard, a pioneer in the field of organizational development who launched the Organization Development Network suggested that people do not resist change; they resist being told to change.
Related to realizing the importance of people and their needs is also the need to recalibrate our attention to the process of the change efforts. Many times as consultants, the focus is on the end result—like what the finish product look like. Although there is merit in this question, a more pertinent question to ask is, “How will we get from point A to point B?” As the reader, you can imagine there are a myriad of methods to get from point A to point B and good consultants provide wisdom as to which is the best method based on the readiness of the client.
Assuming that the consultant is seasoned and does not encounter any of the first three flaws, it is germane to the success of the process that consultants revisit their purpose. This emotional litmus test provides the consultant and the client with a reality check to ensure that the partnership is still productive and fruitful. Moreover, as the change process becomes more detailed and time intensive, it becomes even more important to have periodic check-ins to help the client establish mechanisms to deal with future challenges. Revisiting the purpose affords the consultant the chance to check his or her values with that the clients to ensure alignment.
Now that we have addressed the flaws associated with purpose, we will now transition and discuss the errors related to partnership. There are two elements that fall under the category of partnership and they are: working with the client to increase its capacity, and involving the client and ensuring there is ownership. Consultants are in the helping business and there is the old adage of whether it is better to give a man a fish or to teach him to fish. If the goal is to help the client establish resources and capabilities to handle similar problems in the future, then I argue consultants must also be in the teaching business. Consultants must view their relationship with the client as a partnership in which the client takes the lead on some issues and the consultant on others. If the client wants to pass the problem to the consultant and ask for him or her to fix it, I maintain this scenario is not indicative of a partnership.
Once the consultant establishes rules of engagement, which should include that the client is a willing and able partner and will not remain on the sidelines, the consultant must then attempt to involve the client / employees in as much of the process as possible. This starts with soliciting input and feedback from various departments within the organization as well as establishing teams that will disseminate the learning back to his or her departments.
About the Author
Antar Salim, MBA serves as a coordinator for Rasmussen College- School of Business, at the Eagan, MN college campus; where he teaches business degree-seeking students. He has a Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master’s in Management from Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville.