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The Consultant

A few years ago there was a really good (most of them are) Dilbert showing Dogbert who said that he liked to con people and he also liked to insult them and by combining the two words he got "con-sultant". You can click here to see the original comic strip.

While we all succumb to stereotypes, the role of a consultant needs a refresh, in my opinion, to raise it back up to the standard where it once was. Is it fair to say that when you shop for a new or used car, you get that initial flash across your mind of what might happen to you when you step into the car dealership?

You understand the stereotype of the used car salesperson and it is unfortunate because there are many who perform that role with professionalism but often have to spend as much time deprogramming people off of the stereotype as they do helping them purchase a vehicle. The world of consulting has also suffered a similar fate over the last few years. Companies need help and expertise in meeting their goals and objectives and they turn to consulting organizations to help them but often the experience is less than expected because as with all areas of life, it involves people. People are fickle and can be inconsistent and companies spend untold sums to gain consistency and repeatability in how their people operate but there is always a risk that it won't work for all.

The role of the consultant has many facets and this article is dedicated to describing some of them in an effort to rekindle the level of expectation companies should have from the consultants they hire and equally, to serve as a call to action to consultancies themselves to up the playing field of their people.

The Consultant

Collaborates Well:

  • Understands the meaning of team and how to leverage stakeholders across an organization at all levels

  • Makes the effort to work well in a cross-functional manner

  • Becomes a student of the industry they serve and invests the time to understand the business

  • Talks the talk and also walks it by building relationships that are credible

  • Knows that it involves a dialogue, not a monologue - they listen well and accept input and feedback

  • Operates as a conductor, leveraging the resources available to put forth the best possible solution

Takes Initiative:

  • Proactive vs. reactive - offers fresh thinking, new ideas and innovative methods to challenge the team and get people to see things from various angles and perspectives

  • Demonstrates courage to share the truth with diplomacy and tact

  • Goes the extra mile to encourage and shape direction

  • Steps back to look at the whole picture and avoids the temptation to be myopic in solving a problem

  • Understands that answers and contribution can come from many different places and therefore is open to getting new people and resources engaged

  • Willing to take risks, fail fast and regroup rather than assuming things won't work or that there is just one way

Communicates Early & Often:

  • Establishes a safe environment where thoughts, opinions, feedback and criticism can be shared without risk

  • Articulates the problems, challenges, and possible solutions clearly and differently for each respective audience

  • Doesn't assume things but sticks to sharing facts as the old adage says "when you read a page just read the black part". In other words, don't read between the lines all the time but know how to assess and read what may not be said

  • Brings people together and is an effective organizer

Responsiveness to the Customer:

  • Maintains an ongoing sense of urgency to get things done regardless of how trivial the task

  • Helps the customer identify the options available to them to solve their challenge

  • Invests the time and effort to cultivate a relationship not a transaction

  • Sees things through to completion to ensure the highest level of customer satisfaction

  • Interested in helping solve problems vs. just offering solutions

  • Understands that saying "I don't know" is often more helpful than offering the wrong advice

Technical Experience (if required):

  • Stays up to date with the relative knowledge and skills required to do the job

  • Knows what he/she doesn't know and leverages the right resources to make up the gaps

  • Understands application of technology well enough to understand its utility to a business

  • Delivers consistent and repeatable value and quality

Operational Experience:

  • Demonstrates understanding of the economic framework and impact that their work involves and what it means for the customer

  • Shows leadership through the communication and reporting of program status and results

  • Proactively involves external validation to support the effort and program (best practice, case studies, industry measures/white papers)

Results Oriented:

  • Doesn't confuse effort with results

  • Consistently evaluates how to improve the work for the customer's benefit

  • Operates the scorecard/dashboard to highlight results, show gains and identify risks

  • Understands the measures (value currencies) required for success and ensures that stakeholders are engaged and equally aware

Influential & Respected:

  • Works toward a trusted advisor/partner status with the customer

  • Willingly involves external colleagues, contacts, and customers to share experiences, influence direction and maintain credibility

  • Aligned with the customer vision to help shape the organization's thinking and direction

  • Operates as an "enabler" to help people grow in their skill and experience

  • Treats people and customer information with privacy and confidentiality

Adapts to Change:

  • Understands that agility is a soft and hard skill and watches for opportunities to leverage, re-direct or shape a direction

  • Handles challenges, criticisms, impediments, obstacles... all with poise, professionalism and with a visible desire to gain resolution

  • Keeps options available and open to adapt to change

  • Maintains transparency and trust with the customer so that the whole team can adapt as needed

Responsible & Accountable:

  • Delivers on the commitments made without deferring responsibility

  • Establishes a governance and escalation model upfront so all stakeholders understand the lines/levels of communication

  • Takes ownership for the expected results and outcomes

  • Their Yes is Yes and their No is No - avoid commitments that can't be achieved or delivered

  • Sets clear expectations with all stakeholders

While this is not an exhaustive description of the role of The Consultant, it does represent the areas that matter most and you can tweak this to your specific organization's liking. The call to action is for customers and consultancies to expect more.

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