Redefining the Effective Consultant

By Barry Sweeny, 2003


INDEX:


“Effective” at What?

In the books written by the consultant gurus, there is often provided a model of perfect consulting
showing all the roles that consultants need to play “to be effective”. As I have said elsewhere in this web site, when someone uses that term (effective), I am called to ask, “Effective at what?”

When I use the term “effective” I use it in the sense that something is helpful in taking me from where I am to where I want to be. In other words, I see effectiveness as a matter of sustaining progress toward a desired state.

With THAT definition in mind, when a guru says “to be an effective consultant” I suppose that to mean, the consultant is successful in supporting the client’s progress toward the client’s goals. That makes good sense.

However, there is another sense in which the concept of consultant effectiveness should be considered. The consultant is also likely to have his/her own professional development goals, career goals, even business goals and is likely to want to maintain progress toward those goals too.  In other words, what I am suggesting is an even wider, more balanced definition of an effective consultant, one that includes:

  • success in supporting the client’s progress toward the client’s goals
  • success in maintaining progress toward the consultant’s own goals for self and business

Factors In Selecting Work to Accept

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. I make that decision, not just because I have other areas of my life than just my work, or because I prefer certain kinds of work over others, but also because:

  • I have my own shorter-term professional growth goals and not every job opportunity will help me grow toward those goals.
  • I have my own longer-term career goals and not every job opportunity will help me grow toward those goals.
  • I have goals for my own business and not every job opportunity will help me grow my business toward those goals.

Sometimes I have 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. The reasons for my decisions and the goals underlying those decisions are many faceted. Therefore, what I do is try to choose work which serves as many of my goals as possible at the same time. That way, I can get at least double, if not triple or quadruple benefits from the same activity. Now THAT’s what I call effective!

How Do I Get Double, Triple or Quadruple Benefits From the Same Activity?

In my experience across many clients, the range of roles I have had to play included:

  • In direct client work:
    • A researcher
    • A needs assessor
    • A theory / model builder
    • A writer
    • A problem analyzer and diagnoser
    • A research clearinghouse/resource
    • An “illustrtator” (in the sense of clarifying complex ideas through visual or graphic methods)
    • A presenter and teacher
    • A trainer (in the sense of building mastery of specific skills in others)
    • A facilitator or process guide
    • A program evaluator
  • In building my own business:
    • A mentor
    • A “philanthropist” (in the sense of giving away a lot of my stuff and time to earn my way into new settings & clients)
    • A marketing specialist¬† (THAT’s a big area for my learning!)
    • A salesman
    • A writer
    • A webmaster (to some extent)
    • A graphic designer
    • A meeting planner

Given more time, I am sure there are other roles as well which I’m not thinking of right now. This list is plenty for my purpose here. The point is, the more I can use work for which I am paid in any ONE of these roles for a client to ALSO benefit myself and/or my business, the more value playing that role has for me beyond just the cash I earn from the client.


THE EXAMPLE – Let’s say that a client hires me to:

1. Consult with and facilitate a planning group to design a mentor program

2. Plan and lead their first mentor training

3. Consult with and facilitate the planning group to design and implement a mentor program evaluation system

4. Later on, meet with a pair of outstanding mentors to mentor and coach them as they assume the role as mentor trainers

If I am thinking only of serving those specific client needs, I will miss gaining a great deal of other benefits from those same activities. Gaining those added benefits is critical for me, because my time is limited so my earning power is limited, because I need to be continually marketing my services and not just doing the service, and because those added benefits are the basis for the discounts I can give off my usual fees. Here is a chart to specifically illustrate what I can do to gain these added benefits for myself, while serving the needs of and creating benefits for my clients.

TASKS FOR THE CLIENT’S BENEFIT OBVIOUS PROFESSIONAL BENEFITS GAINED OTHER PERSONAL OR BUSINESS BENEFITS DERIVED
1. Consult with and facilitate a planning group todesign a mentor program
  • Professional fees
  • Work products to show other potential clients
  • Experience to add to my resume
  • My increased skills from the experience
  • Opportunities to
    demonstrate to the client added areas beyond the contract in which I can also add value & meet other client needs
  • New content for
    my web site (free?)
  • Content for my
    monthly e-mail ezine
  • Content which I
    can rework and then sell on my web site
  • Testimonial for
    use in marketing
  • New formats and
    applications of previous ideas and materials which expand the settings in which I have experience and can seek new work.
  • New content to
    use with other clients whose needs are similar.
2. Plan and lead their first mentor training
3. Consult with and facilitate the planning group to design and implement amentor program evaluation system
4. Later on, meet with a pair of outstanding mentors to mentor and coach them as
they assume the role as mentor trainers

Not every item in the middle and right hand columns will be captured as a personal benefit for every task I do, but I am always thinking about how easy it might be do several of these items to add personal or business value to the client value I am trying to create.

Also, not every activity I do for a client can be used for these multiple personal and business purposes (see below). Never-the-less, thinking this way allows me to accept contracts which may have marginal cash value for me, or which may require excessive lost time due to preparation needed in advance or travel time wasted, and still gain sufficient personal and business value from the activity to make it very worth while to do so.


Of course, within all of this discussion, there is one understood issue which is that work developed for a specific client, can only be used for other purposes if I have permission, can conceal the client’s name if requested, can generalize the information to remove specific references to the client, and other such strategies. These issues I work out at the BEGINNING of the project during negotiation of the contract.¬† I do so especially when the project is longer term and I am discounting my fees, and so, I need the added benefits to myself or my business to offset the lost revenue.


In sharing these ideas and strategies with colleagues, I am hoping to generate in return your responses and ideas, even your strategies for these issues. Please email those to me.