How Do You View Your Role as Consultant?

Imagine that you, a management consultant, have been invited to provide “just a few hours of training” as part of a corporate executive retreat. The retreat will take place in a few weeks. This is a particularly busy time of the year for you, and another consultant has been working with the organization for the past several months.

You may be tempted to refer this company to a trainer, but if you do, you might miss opportunities to make a big difference at a crucial point in the growth of a business, to establish a long-term client relationship, and to gain a valuable collaboration with a fellow consultant.

Let’s say that you decide to move ahead with the training gig and simply focus on the logistics—asking how many people will be in attendance, where the event will be held, and whether your training session will follow the financial presentation or the analysis of market potential. You would choose to conduct no up-front interviews or to speak only with the CEO of the client organization.

Stop! Think about the consequences of those decisions. Remember, another consultant had been working with the client for several months. Your failure to involve him early on in the process would proclaim that you don’t respect his input. Not only do you leave yourself open to the consultant distrusting you or even sabotaging your work, but the client executives would also witness your lack of respect for other professionals. That impression could cost you the invitation—and perhaps much more.

When we were in such a situation earlier this year, our Client Services Coordinator scheduled a conference call for me with a few of the key executives and the other consultant. I offered to sign a confidentiality agreement and requested copies of some key documents, including the client’s previous strategic plan, notes/minutes from recent executive team meetings, the full agenda for the retreat, and recent financial statements.

It turned out that the other consultant had been asked to provide a few hours of training at the retreat on a topic I usually cover with my clients. Apparently, my role would be to “encourage the managers of the company to step up and accept more responsibility.” According to the CEO, the executives “felt clear about their goals, believed in their strategies, and wanted the managers to share their optimism.” The CEO wanted employees to “speak up, think things through, make more suggestions, be proactive, prevent problems, and show more initiative.”

What CEO doesn’t want his or her employees to do more? There’s nothing new here. So why not accept the CEO’s remarks at face value and move on to preparing the two-hour training session on “Stepping Up” or “The Manager’s Role in Implementing Strategy”?

However, the reality is that the CEO’s desires could indicate that the executives had inadvertently created a corporate culture that discourages managers from speaking up or accepting responsibility. Needing an outsider to help managers share executives’ optimism could indicate that the executives lack communication or motivational skills, are insensitive to the managers’ concerns, or have blind spots and do not see the holes in their strategy that the managers can see.

I offered to interview each person who would be participating in the retreat and scheduled a post-interview/pre-retreat conference call to convey that I would offer an opinion after looking into the situation.

The interviews revealed that the company was experiencing several symptoms—tight cash flow, increased staff turnover, and a lengthy proposal process. No matter what was written on the planning documents, its primary strategy was actually “everyone will work harder and harder with less and less.”

During our brief phone appointment, the executives reasserted their desire for my presentation to “encourage managers to accept more responsibility.” I could tell that it would be important for me to agree with that desired outcome.  As a result, I was left with the question how can I open the minds of the executives without disrupting their positive momentum?

At the retreat, my segment began with a facilitative review of each of the nine strategies proposed in the client’s plan. Each strategy clearly had implications for executives and managers. After the third strategy, I shifted to more of a training style and presented information about four different entrepreneurial styles that organizations adopt: deals, innovation, sales, and production. The predominant entrepreneurial style determines whether an organization should have distinct lines of business or be organized along functions; whether it should obtain loans, lines, equity deals, venture capital, or another form of growth financing; and whether it needs a strong general manager or if the CFO should be a more dominant force, etc.

It did not take long for this group of executives and managers to recognize that two conflicting entrepreneurial styles were represented by the company’s nine major strategies. During the last third of my segment, which took on a more advisory tone, I helped them work together to clarify which entrepreneurial style would take the lead. Some of their strategies changed as a result, which in turn led to clarified priorities for the executives and managers regarding implementation. This multi-modal session (facilitating, training/consulting) clearly resulted in managers feeling more willing to step up and take initiative in part because it addressed inconsistencies in the client’s strategic approach.

A few months later, I conducted another session with the same group, which was followed by a part-facilitation/part-training/part-consulting session with the entire company. The latter session addressed important “pain” points like cash flow, turnover, and the sales process. While the other consultant happily focuses on departmental budgets, I now serve on the company’s advisory board, provide monthly phone coaching for the CEO, interview candidates for key vacancies, and help the company attract a different form of growth financing than the executives had been seeking earlier in the year.

You may not consider yourself a trainer, a facilitator, or a coach but being willing and able to assume these roles on a small scale can increase opportunities for gaining new consulting engagements.

 

Known as The Growth Strategist®, ALDONNA R. AMBLER, CMC, CSP, has published two books and over 150 articles and hosts a weekly Internet radio show, The Growth Strategist® on at www.growthstrategistshow.com.  

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