September 5, 2012
Any consultant wanting to hone his or her skills should read this recent article by Bernard Ross and Sudeshna Mukherjee in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Here are the ten points they list: (For a detailed explanation, read the article!)
Following this list, I’ve added eight more that I believe are at least as important.
* Have self-confidence and be as adept at delivering bad news as good.
* Have a good understanding of the business and of themselves.
* Have transferable skills.
* Have the ability to simplify and explain a problem.
* Have more than one solution to a problem.
* Be a good listener.
* Be a team player.
* Be able to market.
* Gain client trust.
* Remember who’s the star.
And while I agree strongly with all of these, there are more traits that I believe are equally important:
* Be comfortable telling the truth. Clients may just want to hear positive words, expressions of praise. A great consultant is willing to say what needs to be said.
* Be tactful and affirming. Truthtelling doesn’t need to be negative and abrasive. A great consultant can phrase criticism as helpful suggestions, and can lead the client toward constructive action.
* Know how to ask great questions. Great consultants ask great questions. It’s through such questions that we learn what’s really going on, what the client thinks is going on, and what different groups within the client organization think is going on.
* Be willing to play together. You can learn only so much sitting at the conference table. Spending some quality time with the client outside of the office environment is important as well. A great consultant can engage the client in different venues, and, by so doing, learn much ore about motivations, hopes, fears, etc.
* Have lots of integrity. Confidences need to be respected. Promises need to be kept. A great consultant only makes promises that he or she can and will keep.
* Admit mistakes. Great consultants aren’t always right. What’s important is that they take responsibility for the advice they offer, and are willing to acknowledge when it proves to be “off” in any way.
* Love simplicity. Even when Business and organization problems seem quite complex, some simple models will help clients understand. A great consultant and report and prescribe in very simple terms, but will still be ready to address the added complexity that may be part of a full understanding.
* Enjoy the work. Great consultants have fun. Working with clients can be like playing in a sandbox, and helping clients solve their own problems can be like building those sand castles most of used used to create as children. Clients will catch on — that it’s fund to learn, to develop new understanding, to think up new possible solutions, to test ideas, and to work together in a collaborative environment.
January 4, 2011
In an on-line discussion about guidelines for choosing a consultant, I suggested the following:
- Start with a statement of your problem, that is as specific as possible. But be clear that you’re stating the problem, and not your sense of what a solution might be.
- See how it feels to talk with your prospective consultant about that problem. Do their questions make you think, broaden your concept of how a solution might be found?
- Don’t attempt to get a free solution from those discussions. Actually with a good consultant, you will learn something in each encounter, but the goal is to test the working relationship and not to move towards solutions.
- Be very clear about fees, retainers, confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, ownership of new intellectual property, etc. If you and your consultant have trouble with these, that’s a red flag.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for references, and to speak with them.
- The consultant must have the body of knowledge you require, feel like a comfortable partner, communicate his or her professionalism, and acknowledge your role in the consulting process.
- Agree on evaluation criteria at the start of the engagement. (e.g. “So, at the end of phase one, we’ll look forward to having a feature list for the product we’ll be building, and a detailed definition of the market segment to whom it will be directed.”)
- Enter into the consulting agreement only if you respect, trust, and look forward to working with this consultant.