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Review: Consulting is More Than Just Giving Advice (Part 2)

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In this two part series we review the article "Consulting is More Than Giving Advice", which was published in 1982 in the Harvard Business Review.

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In part one of this series on the hierarchy of consulting we talked about the first four fundamental objectives.  In this second part, we will explore the second half of that list.  I’m including it in here as a refresher in case you can’t remember, or missed the first part.

1. Providing information to a client.

2. Solving a client’s problems.

3. Making a diagnosis, which may necessitate redefinition of the problem.

4. Making recommendations based on the diagnosis.

5. Assisting with implementation of recommended solutions.

6. Building a consensus and commitment around corrective action.

7. Facilitating client learning—that is, teaching clients how to resolve similar problems in the future.

8. Permanently improving organizational effectiveness.

 

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5. Implementing Changes

This can be scary.  The consultant’s proper role in implementation is a matter of considerable debate in the profession. Some argue that one who helps put recommendations into effect takes on the role of manager and thus exceeds consulting’s legitimate bounds. Others believe that those who regard implementation solely as the client’s responsibility lack a professional attitude since recommendations that are not implemented (or are implemented badly) are a waste of money and time. And just as the client may participate in diagnosis without diminishing the value of the consultant’s role, so there are many ways in which the consultant may assist in implementation without usurping the manager’s job.

A consultant will often ask for a second engagement to help install a recommended new system. However, if the process to this point has not been collaborative, the client may reject a request to assist with implementation simply because it represents such a sudden shift in the nature of the relationship. Effective work on implementation problems requires a level of trust and cooperation that is developed gradually throughout the engagement.

In any successful engagement, the consultant continually strives to understand which actions, if recommended, are likely to be implemented and where people are prepared to do things differently. If the assignment’s goals include building commitment, encouraging learning, and developing organizational effectiveness, there is little point in recommending actions that will not be taken.

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6. Building Consensus & Commitment

Any engagement’s usefulness to an organization depends on the degree to which members reach accord on the nature of problems and opportunities. Otherwise, the diagnosis won’t be accepted, recommendations won’t be implemented, and valid data may be withheld. To provide sound and convincing recommendations, a consultant must be persuasive and have finely tuned analytic skills. But more important is the ability to design and conduct a process for:

(1) building an agreement about what steps are necessary, and;
(2) establishing the momentum to see these steps through. An observation by one consultant summarizes this well.

Consultants can gauge and develop a client’s readiness and commitment to change by considering the following questions.

  • What information does the client readily accept or resist?
  • What unexpressed motives might there be for seeking our assistance
  • What kinds of data does this client resist supplying? Why?
  • How willing are members of the organization, to work with us on solving these problems and diagnosing this situation?
  • How can we shape the process and influence the relationship to increase the client’s readiness for needed corrective action?
  • Are these executives willing to learn new management methods and practices?
  • Do those at higher levels listen?
  • To what extent will this client regard a contribution to overall organizational effectiveness and adaptability as a legitimate and desirable objective?

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7. Facilitating Client Learning

Management consultants like to leave behind something of lasting value. This means not only enhancing clients’ ability to deal with immediate issues but also helping them learn methods needed to cope with future challenges. This does not imply that effective professionals work themselves out of a job. Satisfied clients will recommend them to others and will invite them back the next time there is a need.

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8. Organizational Effectiveness

Sometimes successful implementation requires not only new management concepts and techniques but also different attitudes regarding management functions and prerogatives or even changes in how the basic purpose of the organization is defined and carried out. The term organizational effectiveness is used to imply the ability to adapt future strategy and behavior to environmental change and to optimize the contribution of the organization’s human resources.

Consultants are not crusaders bent on reforming management styles and assumptions. But a professional diagnosis should include assessment of overall organizational effectiveness, and the consulting process should help lower whatever barriers to improvement are discovered. Good advisers are practitioners, not preachers, but their practices are consistent with their beliefs. When the consulting process stimulates experiments with more effective ways of managing, it can make its most valuable contribution to management practice.

 

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