My Burning Professional Self-Definition Question
As I pass myself off as a consultant, I have begun to repeatedly ask myself what is my role and whether my primary motivation is to my client, my compensation or something else.
Over the past several months, I have participated in various client engagements for the purpose of developing a project, defining client requirements, submitting a presentation or proposal and a host of other “consulting activities.” My dilemma has come from several factors, which I will try to identify in the following lines without trying to sound like I have found the right answers . . . Honestly, I’m still searching, and the learning curve is as steep as one of those terrible roller coasters that they build nowadays.
I know that there are guidelines in the consultant industry. At the same time, I’ve had encounters with consultants from both sides of the table – one side as a client and the other side sharing with other service providers. I have listened to proposals, viewed presentations, and read through and critiqued hundreds of pages of recommendations, analysis reports and other documentation that consultants heap upon clients to drown them in lingo, specifications, case studies, etc.
That Consulting “Thing”
Consulting is an interesting arena of work . . . A wonderful activity to pursue when one is retired, furloughed, between jobs, or existing in various other manifestations of unemployment.
The spectrum of activities that can fall under consulting has expanded to include every area of business and even personal life. As I am not a “life consultant,” I will focus on the business aspect, and since I am not a technical or operational expert, I will narrow my focus to my personal experiences in organizational and development consulting.
Now so that we are clear, this tract is purely experiential; that is, based on my observations and experiences through work, and more currently as I try my hand at consulting in various aspects. My basic experience has been in training, curriculum development, organization restructuring and business development, including research and analysis. More recently, I have been involved in more technical projects, but only from the standpoint of helping clients define their requirements clearly enough so technical developers can understand what they should be developing. That’s a topic for another blog.
So what do we see with consultants?
- They pass themselves off as knowing more than the client . . . Oops . . . maybe I should say “we.”
- They come in assuming that the client doesn’t have a clue about the business they have been doing for years . . . I mean “we.”
- “We” already have the solution in our minds before we ask the client one question about their needs, goals, ambitions, problems, etc.
- “We” make promises that we sometimes don’t intend on keeping.
- “We” convince clients that our “off-the-shelf” product will solve all their problems (but we forget to tell them about the additional cost of customization when stuff doesn’t work they way they expect).
And we wonder why they look at each other when we walk into the conference room with our rolling cases, laptops, tablets and projects, not to mention the flashy business cards. And that expression of skepticism is one honed through years of substance-less consultant-eze. So “we” can’t blame our clients for their apprehension and anxiety.
So What Are We Supposed to Be and Do?
Mind you . . . I am still in that transition of consultant idealism as opposed to consultant reality. So I feel that I have the potential to reach the higher heights of consultantology (is this a real word? Should we coin it? How much will you pay? Maybe I should trade mark it, then I can write a book and charge you thousand of dollars for a seminar where I try to explain it to you).
Because I have sat in the client seat, I still feel sensitive to the “needs” of the client. So as an aspiring consultant, I tend to play to those needs. And to be honest, I feel that all consultants should have the same attitude, but to be honest, the cash flow ebbs and flows are just now striking the cognitive areas of my brain . . . I am waking up!
Still . . . as consultants, we should be committed to “help” the client. And before we can help the client, we need to know what’s wrong or even if the client realizes that help is warranted. The only way we can do that is to LET THE CLIENT TALK. Only by LISTENING TO THE CLIENT, will we be able to accurately understand what they need, or whether they need any thing at all.
But that won’t translate into a contract or revenue . . . Then we move to the next client . . . Right?
The Mandate . . .
I know I’m a rookie . . . so indulge me. I’ve been in employment for over 30 years, now I want to test the waters of consulting. So, please indulge my idealistic rant . . .
What should be we as consultants?
Then what should we do?
- Assist clients in identifying what they need or if they really need anything.
- Support clients in defining their requirements to meet their needs not our bottom line.
- Provide clients with resources, references and information to help them make the best decision possible.
- Give the client recommendations for possible solutions and if possible the impact of those recommendations.
- Give the client time to think and decide, but be ready to answer any additional questions honestly and clearly so the clients will understand.
- Then if we have succeeded in that, perhaps the client will retain us to help them implement the best solution possible.