All Secrets, No Sharing: The Challenge of Building Consultant Best Practices

By Barry Sweeny, 2011


The Reality

It IS a LONELY business!

In a sense, every consultant is on a “best practice search” such as the one I have described elsewhere in this section for consultants. We are always trying to improve our leadership and facilitation processes, our knowledge base, our listening and diagnosis skills, and our presentations and speeches. That’s because our call backs, our testimonies and referrals, our very livelihoods depend on the quality of the products and services we provide.

So why in the world would we share with other consultants who are OUR COMPETITORS. the good ideas we discover, the great processes we develop, the advice we have worked so hard to learn our selves?

WE DON’T, SHARE primarily because we perceive that doing so would reduce the differences between us, and why in the world would we do THAT!? It is these very distinctions between ourselves and our competitiors which we market to attract clients away from those competitors and toward us.

Why We Give Stuff and Our Expertise Away

In fact, when we GIVE free presentations, free samples of books or materials, or free advice in a one-on-one conversation, it is always with an eye on the marketing value of that action and the potential benefits to our business. When we DO share, it is always with potential clients, never with competitiors. We GIVE things away
because we are always seeking to:

  • Show possible clients what we know about effective mentoring
  • Demonstrate our skills as facilitators, leaders, and mentors
  • Illustrate the practical applicability of our ideas for others
  • Gain greater credibility and authority
  • Increase our name and brand visibility and recognition
  • Sell products and services
  • Build relationships which could lead someday to additional work.

So, the big question we wonder about is, “Is there some business-building, client-finding, visibility-increasing reason for one consultant to share expertise with another consultant?” Because, if there is NOT, we are pretty sure that we are not going to do it.

The Author is a Part of the Dilemma.

I am VERY reluctant to share what I know too.

Whenever I do a presentation at the IMA conference, I check who the participants are and I always speak with consultants to clarify what they can and cannot do with my materials and ideas. I feel I have to protect myself and my business that way.

However, when I attend the IMA annual conference, I also notice how many of the participants are known consultants with some level of “name” recognition. I wonder about what they know that I need to learn. I wonder about whether they know or can do what I can do. I am curious if they see things the way that I do. But I never find out.

Even in conversations with some of them, we almost always avoid real, in-depth sharing of what we know with each other. It’s always that way, I feel, because we perceive there to be no benefit to us to do so, as stated above. In fact, there are clear disincentives to doing so.

A Possible Way for Consultants to Share With Each Other

As a Director Emeritus of the IMA, I also think about and perceive such lack of sharing among consultants through another “lens”, and I wonder still, how could sharing within this group be facilitated? What could IMA do to help these gurus and trainers find a way to build on each other’s knowledge and expertise? Until recently, I could not see a way to make such sharing happen on a realistic basis. Even in thinking about a role-based network for consultants to be sponsored by IMA, I have been somewhat stimied by this dilemma.

A Strategy For Enabling Consultant Sharing in IMA

Here is a strategy I have just recently developed which I believe can be the basis for an IMA Mentoring Consultants and Trainers Network.

  1. A Consulants’ Network COULD work IF it was established and it’s members functioned under a specific set of rules or conditions to which all participants agreed to abide. If it was learned that a participant did not keep the commitments, even in just one instance, that member would be barred from all future participation.
  2. The proposed “Conditions for Consultant Sharing” include:
    • Every written or tangible form of sharing will be clearly labeled by the author or owning
      consultant with their name, a copyright notice, and contact information, including e-mail, web site, phone and address.
    • All information which is shared verbally, is shared with the unstated understanding
      that others will not use it without first gaining a verbal or written permissionfrom the person who originally share the idea.
    • Anyone who uses another’s information in any form or materials which were shared at
      the IMA Mentoring Consultant and Trainers Network will only do so if:

      • The user has first sought and receieved verbal or written agreement for that
        use from the author or person who originally shared the information or materials.
      • The user KEEPS all identifying information on any tangible materials which are used so the original source is known.
      • If the information was originally shared verbally, the user will ADD identifying and contact information onto any tangible materials which are created or to whatever verbal use of that information is made, so the original source of the information is known.
      • The information or materials gained at the IMA Consultant Network are provided for free by anyone else other than the orginal author, so that, in no
        way does the later user financially gain from the use…
      • OR…the information or materials gained at the IMA Consultant Network are purchased from the original author and resold at the same cost by the later
      • No adaptations or partial use of materials or ideas are allowed UNLESS agreed to in advance by the original author or person who originally shared
        the information at the Network.
  3. I think that participants should have to actually take an oath affirming their commtiment to abide by these conditions. The most practical form of that “Oath” would be to read and sign it on entry into the meeting room. A copy would be given the participant, and the signed copy would be kept by the meeting facilitator.
  4. A general “sign-up sheet” for each meeting, with Network existing members’ names already listed, could be used to collect attendance information and to show which of the participants have already taken the oath and which “new” members have not yet done so..
  5. The oath I propose is as follows:
    • “I agree to respect and follow ‘The Conditions for Consultant Sharing’ which are used by the IMA Consultants’ Network to create the context in which consultants can learn from and share their expertise with each other. I also agree that, if I break this agreement, even in just one instance, and try to benefit or profit from others’ ideas or materials, or use others’ ideas without acknowledging their ownership of them, I shall be removed from the IMA Consultants’ Network and not allowed to participate any further.”
    • The oath should be followed (on the same page) by a statement of the “Conditions”.
  6. The facilitator of the IMA Consultant Network would need to keep track of attendance at each meeting, the names of those taking the “Oath”, and would have to ensure that all participants are members by virtue of having signed the “Oath”.
  7. The implication of such an oath includes that the IMA Consultant Network is a membership only group and not a group which others can casually visit.
  8. I propose that, after our initial formation meeting, that membership in the IMA Mentoring Consultants and Trainers Network be ONLY by nomination of a current member, so that membership is a special and meaningful, peer-reviewd
  9. Since the IMA Consultant Network is by design specifically to promote a mutual sharing of consultants’ insights and experiences, only consultants should be attending the meetings.

Since the author of this article has been a part-time mentoring consultant since 1989 and a full-time consultant since 1998, he has used his own experience and judgment in writing the above strategy. Essentially, he has tested the adequacy of this strategy by asking himself if he would agree to sharing his ideas with other consultants under those conditions. His answer is “Yes”.

Please email Barry Sweeny regarding your reactions to these conditions and interest in forming suh a network. Thanks! (The information you submit will be kept confidential.)