Consulting Ain’t Just Telling People What To Do.

While the primary objective of any good management consultant should be to “improve the client’s overall condition,” there here are multiple functions or roles a consultant may fill to achieve that objective. My favorite comes from Dr. Arnold turner at Harvard University.

These eight purposes act as building blocks, with a foundation and ultimately a peak. They grow in complexity and value. The higher you go – the greater your value to the client (and profitability):
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1. Providing information to a client.
Often a consultant is brought in simply to help a client find information they either don’t know where to find or cannot interpret practically. Many times this deals with the consultant’s unique expertise. Most truly profitable consultants don’t play this role very often.
2. Providing a solution to a given problem. The key word here is “given,” which implies that the client has already decided what the problem is and simply needs an expert to deliver their pre-determined solutions. This level of consulting is the hired-gun. The key question is, “Have they diagnosed the true problem correctly?” You run the risk of delivering excellent training, but on something that isn’t the real cause of the problem.
3. Diagnosing an existing problem. At this level you partner with the client to identify the symptoms, define the actual problem, and then accurately diagnose the true cause. In my opinion this is the single most valuable step and, as such, it is the purpose I most shoot for.
4. Provide recommendations. At this level all you do is help the client determine the best course of action to correct a problem, which is now accurately diagnosed. You could stop here by simply making recommendations, but why not leverage your influence at this point and include yourself in the delivery of that recommendation. Ideally this level connects with the next (#5).
5. Assist/implement solutions. As the title suggests, your purpose here is to actually help deliver the solutions. Here you don’t just tell them what to do and hope they do it; you are paid to make it happen. After diagnosing the problem, this is the next ideal purpose for me.
6. Build consensus and commitment. No matter what your recommendation may be, if the people affected by it fail to buy in to it, it will fail. Building consensus is of paramount importance to any project. I think of Henry Ford’s famous statement, “Whether you think you can or can not, you’re probably right.” No matter which of these purposes you are filling, this one should always be involved.
7. Facilitating client learning. This is just another way of saying, “teach them how to do it.” Believe it or not, the smart—and profitable—consultant makes this a primary objective and charges the client handsomely. If you tie yourself to hours worked you limit your profitability. Every time you deliver training you are taking yourself off the market. If you do this right, you can teach the client to do the process themselves, and still get paid.
8. Improving organizational effectiveness. This should be the overarching goal of any consultant. As such, it should be the purpose or role you strive to reach with every client. All other roles should be in service of this objective. In short, the poor consultant may be happy to play a bit part in the overall play that is the client’s condition, but the truly profitable consultant makes sure he or she gets the staring role!

Which roles do you find the most common or rewarding?

About Jay Niblick

Jay Niblick is principal and co-founder of Innermetrix and best selling author of What's Your Genius and The Profitable Consultant. Learn more about Jay Niblick here and connect via Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.