PM Book Review

Flawless Consulting – by Peter Block

Brij Sethi

Brij Sethi, Partner – Dost Expertise LLP. Brij helps you apply Head Heart Hands to work. Head – Build and Share Expertise. Heart – Care and Persist. Hands – Stay Healthy and Get things done with grace and ease.

One of the best ways for an expert to share expertise is to solve actual problems with expertise.

It is not sufficient to bring your expertise to the table. You must be able to consult effectively too.

The book, ‘Flawless Consulting’ shows you how. Here is the gist of the book, as I see it, to explore the possibilities.

When a business is in trouble, only then, they call in a consultant to solve their problem. She is seen as an expert troubleshooter. As a consultant, expect this to be the first thing you will need to do.

#doableAction: Firefight as needed, but no more.

The real role of a consultant is not to provide a quick fix or worse still, to be a front for unpleasant decisions.

A consultant’s role is to

  • Understand the problem with analytical skills and leverage from past experience where she has solved similar problems
  • Understand the emotions and interpersonal dynamics that constrain the customer’s organization to solve the problem effectively on their own
  • The consultant owns the process that involves multiple stakeholders in arriving at the actual solution and its subsequent implementation by following an agreed-upon process.

 

It is important for consultants to be

  • authentic so that they invoke trust and participation
  • simultaneously analytical from the ‘head’ and have a high practicing EQ from the ‘heart’
  • good at managing meetings and facilitating process interactions because that is the primary set of weapons at a consultant’s disposal.

 

#doableAction: Get good at managing meetings and being sensitive to available ‘process options’ as interactions unfold.

Use your feelings and intuition in addition to your analytical and inductive reasoning.

It is true that being rational is the key to effective decisions. But the rational mind is subject to many biases and often makes emotional and political decisions and then cloaks them in a mask of rationality.

People also show resistance in different ways while still appearing to be rational.

So a consultant needs to operate not only at the business problem level, but also at the emotional and interpersonal dynamics level.

A consultant must be wise to not ignore her own feelings and should use them like

  • a barometer, to gauge what is happening in the deeper unstated undercurrents
  • a litmus paper, to surface hidden emotions in others by bringing into observation her own emotions
  • a friendly handshake, to reach out and make connections for effective working relationships

 

#doableAction: Don’t ignore feelings and instincts. Instead, use them as data to better understand the situation in front of you.

If a consultant comes across as a hypocrite or as someone who is not open to new inputs and ideas, then others will also reciprocate and not heed her guidance.

In spite of being an expert, this may render a consultant completely ineffective.

#doableAction: Say what you do. Do what you say.

A consultant can give advice using past experience and use creativity for new ideas. A consultant also provides motivation and removes obstructions that may restrict implementation of actions.

In all this, she has to depend on others doing and implementing what she has to offer.

If a consultant demonstrates with actions that she has understood your concerns and factored them in, she is more likely to get a receptive audience for her recommendations. She also then opens doors to do some needed coaching so that the problems do not occur again, if possible.

#doableAction: Listen actively. Act respectfully.

A doer – does, A manager – drives, but a consultant – enables!

Consultants can get called in for the wrong reasons.

  • What if the organization or the manager needs a pair of hands to do the dirty work?
  • What if the expert work that the consultant provides will never get done in-house in future?
  • What if the managers have already diagnosed the problem and only want implementation but in truth, they did not have the analytical skills to solve the problem fully?

 

It is for the consultant to come in and in the initial interactions determine if she can genuinely add value. It is the consultant’s job to set and manage expectations all along without compromising on what she believes is right.

#doableAction: Understand, set and manage expectations from beginning itself and commit to the engagement only if you can deliver what is expected.

All problem solving and implementation planning boils down to following a process.

Each consulting phase builds on the previous and goes through –

  1. Rapport building
  2. Understanding and setting mutual expectations
  3. Contracting for engagement
  4. Understanding the problem
  5. Forming hypothesis and gathering data
  6. Pattern matching and arriving at insights
  7. Presenting the solution, seeking inputs,
  8. Validating the solution and /or pilot
  9. Arriving to milestones, roles and process
  10. Implementation
  11. Tracking, course-correction and review

 

#doableAction: Begin by clearly discussing mutual expectations. This is not a one-way street.

#doableAction: As a consultant – never surrender ‘how’ things are done. You are the custodian of the process and the process is your saviour.

If you do not encounter any resistance – something is seriously wrong!

A consultant facilitates change in an organization. Change is hard. It makes people unhappy because they can be scared. The future is uncertain. They can feel their power or influence slipping.

A young consultant comes in and tells you how to do your job better. That too, when you have been doing it for 15 years! It is natural to feel angry.

#doableAction: As a consultant, learn to recognise resistance and to manage it.

The book gets into many specifics around this but here are three quick #doable Actions

  1. Instead of ignoring the resistance and continuing with ‘business as usual’ – acknowledge the resistance and bring it into the open. While doing so, ensure that respect is maintained. It helps if you start with ‘what you are feeling’
  2. Ask questions that address possible causes of Resistance. Use neutral language and create openings for candid responses. Then listen.
  3. Show them the big picture and restate your position against it. Show them, ‘what’s in for them’ and restate your position against it. Come back another day and restate your position.

 

Create a space for people to be able to share their fears.

The best of ideas will not get implemented if people are scared about how it will affect them. Do you know what is the biggest, darkest, meanest fear?

It is the one that has not been stated in words and simply lurks like a proverbial elephant in the room. You can do nothing about it, till you describe the imaginary elephant in actual words. It is not about logic. It is about emotions.

#doableAction: Whether in a 1-1 meeting, or over a meal or while commuting – create space for people by giving them attention and time. You may need to keep their confidence and act to show seriousness, to earn their trust.

#doableAction: Explore the process options as a facilitator for large group work – to involve multiple stakeholders in constructively sharing their fears and concerns.

A consultant teaches them to ‘fish’ instead of giving them a fish.

For a change to take root, it is essential that people are able to say, ‘We did it ourselves’. In that sense, the job of the consultant is to be the initial spark first and then a catalyst to let things continue on a positive spiral.

You do not lose your business as a consultant if you make yourself superfluous. You continue to rise on to higher levels on the shoulders of customers who trust you more and more. Almost all consulting practice is based on repeat business.

#doableAction: Teach them to replace you and what you do. If they are not yet ready, groom them to get ready.

People sometimes have unpleasant stereotypes about consultants . That

  • They dress up sharply and bring a lot of attention to themselves. They blow their own trumpet.
  • They have fancy degrees and even though usually younger and with less work experience – they look down upon the old hands.
  • They use your wristwatch to tell you the time and then charge you for it.

 

What you can do to address these stereotypes, forms the conclusion of this book.

While it is good to dress up appropriately and present your case effectively #doableAction Bring your attention to the situation on hand, how it matches previous patterns you are aware of and how it is an opportunity too.

While it is good to have a great education and apply what you have learnt, education only begins when you get into a new situation.

#doableAction: Bring respect and curiosity with you into all your interactions.

Common-sense can be in short supply. There is nothing wrong if you are able to ‘tell the king that he is not wearing any clothes’.

#doableAction: Charge your customers for the value you add, not what you can get away with. Your value comes from your expertise. Your value also comes from your common sense, honesty and ethics.

This book is reviewed by Brij Sethi, who is a partner at Dost Expertise LLP. You can read Brij’s other book reviews and summaries in https://brijsethi.in