April 17, 2015 Show Notes: We’re All Consultants Now!

Ed discussed how we are all consultants now. This material is based on Peter Block’s seminal book, Flawless Consulting.

Consulting Definitions

A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, group, or organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs.

A surrogate manager is a person in a position who acts on behalf or in place of a manager. If you are being asked to “complete this report,” “design this system,” or “figure out what to do,” you are in the position of surrogate manager.

Consultants and surrogate managers are two distinct roles. You cannot be both because that would be a contradiction. It is irrational.

Consulting Assumptions

Whenever performing in a consulting role, it is important that the consultant must be clear about one’s own basic beliefs. Our own behaviors must be consistent with what we recommend.

It makes sense to spend some time thinking about what your personal beliefs are about what makes for good management and leadership. To this end, presented below are three assumptions about consulting for the purposes of our dialogue.

Problem solving requires valid data. This data not only includes objective or hard data, but personal or soft data. Hard data are not only computer system data, but other hard facts such as events or situations. Soft data are also facts, but relate to the personal feelings of those involved. If people feel that they have not been trained effectively on a new system, then this is a fact, even if we have a sign-off sheet saying they were trained. Throwing away this data because it is soft, puts actual problem solving in peril.

Effective decision making requires free choice. If a decision is to be truly implemented, the people involved in carrying out the decision must feel that they were a part of the decision. When they do not feel a part of the decision, they have a tendency to get defensive. If “no” is not a choice, than it is not really a decision.

Effective implementation requires customer commitment. If a customer is not fully committed to the implementation of a decision, it will fail. Support is not enough, commitment is required. In order to gain commitment, people need to clearly see the benefit this will have for them.

Consulting Levels: The FORD Model

Customers desire consultants to work on many different levels within an engagement. Often times the desired consultant level is not effectively communicated by both parties.

It is critical to the success of any engagement that both the consultant and the customer are clear about the desired level. These levels are:

  • Findings
  • Options
  • Recommendations
  • Decision

See Ed’s blog post on the FORD Model.

Chris Marston’s Concentric Circles blog post.

Consulting Goals

Along with consulting assumptions, a consultant should have some basic goals. These goals may not always be attained, but they should indicate your preference. Like assumptions, presented below are three goals for this material.

To establish a collaborative relationship. Collaboration is proven to be the most effective way to maximize both the consultant and customer’s resources. Secondarily, it provides a model for the customer to see and use to solve problems in the future.

To solve problems so they stay solved. Many consultants act in a way so as to fix the immediate problem. This is what has given consulting a bad connotation. Solving problems so they stay solved is a key differentiator. Teaching customers to solve problems on their own in the future requires a higher level of skill.

To ensure attention is given to both the technical problem and the relationship. Most organizations pay attention only to their technical problems. Consultants are in a unique position that allows them to see the people and process issues that surround the technical problem.

To develop customer commitment. As was stated earlier, without customer commitment the consultant has no chance to succeed. Therefore, the underlying goal of every action is to develop customer commitment to a solution to the problem.

To quote Peter Block:

We may cling to the fantasy that if our thinking is clear and logical, our wording eloquent, and our convictions solid, the strength of our arguments will carry the day. Clear arguments do help, but they are not enough. The customer will experience doubts and dilemmas that block commitment. Flawless Consulting, p 21.

Positive Deviance

I also asked Ed about Peter Block’s concept of “positive deviance”: Are we here to merely solve a problem, or create a new future for ourselves?”

Peter Drucker thought we should pursue opportunities, not just solve problems. Solving problems, at best, only returns us to the status quo. Executives need to spend the majority of their time—and allocate their best talent—to the opportunities of tomorrow.

Ed’s Statement of Intent

“It is my intention to help you and your organization make the best possible decision.”

Not Final Thoughts

What I love about Ed’s concept that we are consultants now is that is positions professionals at the top of Joseph Pine’s Progression of Economic Value Curve—that of transformations.

For if consulting is done right, you are transforming a person, a group, or an organization, rather than just delivering services.

This is one of the most effective strategies to de-commoditize your offerings!

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