Must We Be Perfect Consultants?

By Barry Sweeny, 2010


Consulting gurus have made a lot of money by writing books about what it takes “to be an effective consultant”. Setting aside my favorite question, “Effective at what?”, there is I think, a different unexamined question residing within that statement. Such a statement seems to imply either that …

1. Every consulting job requires the SAME skills, which suggests that every job IS the SAME. (Not true.)

OR

2. Every consultant needs a full range of a certain set of the SAME skills, so no matter which subset of skills any specific job requires, the consultant is ready to do it successfully. (I don’t agree with that interpretation either!)


Regardless of what the consultant gurus say in their books about perfect consulting, I know that I do not have to accept every job opportunity that comes my way. This is why neither of the above statements are true, at least not for me.

Sure, there are times when I WANT to accept every job, because I need the work and income, (that IS ONE of my goals) but generally, there is a list of activities I will and will not do that guides my decisions about accepting work opportunities. That list is based on a wide range of issues, including:

  • How I perceive my professional strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis the assignment;
  • The ways in which I think I can best make a contribution to others’ success;
  • The possibilities of my gaining double, triple or even quadruple value** for myself and my client from a work experience.

In other words, I do NOT have to have some idealized set of skills as a consultant to be effective for MY purposes. Of course, I still read those gurus’ books, and I sincerely try to build my skills in areas where I am weak, and I DO want to help my clients achieve THEIR goals, not just mine. I just try NOT to “beat up myself” because I am not the perfect consultant.

This is hard to do however, because there are times a client asks me to do things which are not my strengths, or which are areas in which I want to LEARN, I need greater experience, but have less to offer the client. So I have to decide what to say and do. Usually, my better self prevails and I am completely transparent with the client and then, leave it to them to decide whether I am the person they need.

Sometimes I am still given the opportunity, in which case I:

  • Do my very best to deliver for the client and meet their needs.
  • Discount my service fees somewhat
  • Learn as much and as fast as I can, to become as productive as I can, as soon as I can.

This means that I may have to work a lot harder, for a lot more hours in the evening or in advance for a client, for less money. I am OK with that when it is this type of situation I have just described and it meets other goals I may have.

Other times I lose the client or the job and I wonder if I should have been “so honest”.

At least my behavior and my conscience can pass the “I can sleep well at night” test, a fundamental requirement to which I hold myself.


MY BOTTOM LINE?

1. I push myself constantly to learn and improve.

2. I try to be content and satisfied with who I am as a consultant at any point, and therefore, with what I can and cannot do well.

3. I try to only do what I can do well.

4. I am completely candid with clients whenever I enter an area in which I want to work, but am less experienced and so am unsure if I can promise to deliver all
that is needed.


** Earlier above I used the phrase, “The possibilities of my gaining double, triple or even quadruple value** for myself and my client.”  Here is what that means to me.

The more value i can gain from an experience, the more I want to choose that experience over any other. For example. my typical goal is to gain at least TRIPLE VALUE from everything I do. That means that I will be very interested in answering a question in an e-mail, and doing that for free, for the following “value” reasons:

  1. Perhaps the person I give the small free service to will be impressed with me and my answer and, perhaps later, hire me.
  2. I can reuse the text of my answer in the IMA Newsletter if I think the question would be of interest to others.
  3. Perhaps, people who read the newsletter will be impressed with me and my answer and, perhaps later, hire me.
  4. Perhaps, people who read the newsletter will be impressed with what IMA provides and will renew their membership.
  5. I can place the answer on the IMA web site for many others to access if they should ever have the same question.
  6. Perhaps, people who read the web page will be impressed with me and my answer and, perhaps later, hire me.
  7. Perhaps, people who read the web site article will be impressed with what IMA provides and will renew their membership.
  8. Perhaps, people who read the article will be prompted to ask another question, or to write a response and get a bit more involved in the IMA..

How’s THAT – I got way more than triple value from writing that one answer, so it is really worth doing that.

YOU CAN DO THIS TOO

A similar set of 3-4 values gain can be derived for a consultant as well. If you write that article for the web site (1), and it gets used in the newsletter too (2), you can cite that in your resume (3). Readers will asign greater credibility to you if they like what you wrote (4), and they may seek you out for work with them (5). Etc.

COMMENTS?  I would be interested in discussing these issues with other consultants. Please e-mail Barry Sweeny