By September 7, 2009 4 Comments Read More →

3 Basic Conditions For Successful Consulting Gig

Before starting your next consulting gig ask yourself – “What’re are the minimum conditions to make this one successful?”

I ask that question myself anytime I get a new assignment. Lately I found simple and practical answer to it in the book Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used where Peter Block suggest that critical conditions for successful consulting gigs are Valid Data, Free and Open Decision Choice, and Internal Commitment.

Think to hire a consultant? Preparing to a new consulting engagement? Consultant or not, want your next gig be a success? Make sure these conditions are met.

Valid Data

Peter Block writes:

Problem Solving Requires Valid Data.

That might sound like wisdom of obvious but it is not obvious at all. Gathering valid information is crucial first step. Many customers are eager to spit out everything on you during the first meeting – the problem, the root cause, and the solution to it. All these are good raw materials for consultant to build the strategy. It also helps asking better questions, laser sharp questions, context precision questions. Making assumptions on the raw materials, without making reality check, would be a mistake resulting in time loss and potentially in trust and brand damage.

Free and Open Choice

Peter Block writes:

Effective Decision Making Requires Free and Open Choice.

The way I implement it is by offering my customers make their own decision based on clear criteria – the impact. This is very simple and effective practice I learned. This is how it works:

  • Set objectives and expectations.
  • Collect the data. Get into the context of the problem by asking precision questions.
  • Validate the data and the assumptions.
  • Build a list of issues – the issue, the impact, the recommendation to fix it.
  • Done, hand it to the customer.

The customer can freely pick and prioritize the issues based on the impact and then freely decide whether to proceed with the recommendation to fix it.

Consultant’s responsibility is not only identifying the issues but also presenting it the way the customer can freely pick most impactful. Only the customer can decide what has higher impact and what’s less. Impact is in the eye of the beholder. If the customer asks you “what’s most important?” then answer him by asking “what’s most impactful for you? Pick three from the list I gave you.”

Internal Commitment

Peter Block writes:

Effective Implementation Requires Internal Commitment.

This one might sound weird, but it is not – it is painful truth distilled from the consulting battlefield. There are situations when the customer believes once the consultant is engaged everything will flow smoothly. Or there are cases where consultant faces antagonism. In any way, there is very little chance, if any, for consultant to produce something significant if there is lack of commitment from the customer side. That is why during first meeting I state what internal roles or resources I will be needing to produce expected results. I also state that failure to make these resources available will lead to no results. Make sure to communicate the prerequisites to the stakeholders and get formal commitment for it.

Practice This – Get Results

  • Validate collected data – save time and defend your brand
  • Offer choice – do not make it hard for the customer to use your advices
  • Turn chickens into pigs, make them committed and not just involved – get better results with the help from the customer

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4 Comments on "3 Basic Conditions For Successful Consulting Gig"

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  1. Jimmy May says:

    I’ve read Block’s book. It was recommended during Microsoft Services University by Marilyn Grant, CEO of Catalysis.

    Besides travel, the bane of the consulting world is doing great work, documenting the recommendations, handing over the deliverable…& then the doc just sits on a shelf.

    On one hand, I’ve done my job. But as passionate about my work as I am, I feel it’s part of my job is to sell the customer on implementation. I ask myself, “Self, put yourself in the CxO’s place–what information does he/she need to hear, to see to initiate the change process?”

    Block has some great stuff. Far be it from me to do so, but I differ from him a bit here.

    I help the customer pick the most important issues. I prioritize them in terms of Risk, Effort, & Reward. Hey, as the consultant, I am the expert, am I not? Isn’t it part of my job to help the customer decide what’s most important? I often find issues about which the customer has absolutely no knowledge, & I must educate them.

    However, it *is* ultimately the customer’s decision. For example, I may not have enough information to make certain final recommendations. Budget, staff expertise, or politics may leave the final decision with the customer. Yet it’s still my job to fully inform the customer & help them decide.

  2. alik levin says:

    Very insightful one. Consultant/Expert educates – Customer decides. 100% with you.

  3. J.D. Meier says:

    The free and open choice is a powerful technique, especially when you present a slider bar of options. It shows flexibility and awareness of constraints in action.

  4. alik levin says:

    I use this technique daily with my customers – it took though sometime to polish it until it become natural for me and the customers. Once the consultant cracked the problem and hand out the recommendations to the customer, the later faces another problem – how to eat this cake called recommendations. If you make it easier for the customer to eat this cake chances he will.

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