Is consultancy a dying art?

“What do you mean”, you might say, “there seem to be ‘consultants’ everywhere, and the world and his wife is setting up in business as one!”

Yes, I agree, service business is enjoying somewhat of a boom at the moment in finance, IT, management, HR, strategy, social media and so on. However, what many people engaged in supplying services of value to clients seem to have missed, is that this makes them a ‘consultant’ (even if they don’t use the term) – and there is a technology to being a good consultant, just as there is with any other set of professional service skills.

In the first of our series of three blog posts on consultancy, we take a look at its definition and focus on what it means to be an effective practitioner.

Being a good consultant

As a ‘consultant’, whether internal to an organisation like an IT or HR specialist, or an external contracted consultancy service, you work with your clients without any formal authority, to develop and implement courses of action that will improve their operational effectiveness.

Consultants:

  • are usually technically competent in their jobs
  • have normally been trained in technical skills and have considerable skill
  • depend heavily on their personal influencing skills.

The most effective consultants have worked on their ability to adapt their personal style to differing circumstances, particularly the ways they build relationships, identify problems and work with their clients to produce desired results.

However, most consultants unconsciously adopt one “personal style”. This is usually the one you have “always used” and therefore feel comfortable with – in fact, often very similar to the key skill you use in negotiating issues and relationships in your personal life.

This style may not be comfortable for your clients nor appropriate to the stage you are at in your consultancy relationship. The result is that neither you nor your client gets the “win/win” outcome you seek. The reason is almost never technical incompetence but lack of flexibility in your consultancy style, used within a professional consultancy framework. Using these essential consultancy skills builds and maintains the relationship between you and your client, which results in a more effective client and more successful projects.

If you want to find out more, the Leaders Lab course on ‘Consultancy Skills for Internal Advisers’ could well be for you. It is designed for in-house functional specialists looking to improve their consultancy toolkit, focusing on managing the consultancy process and adopting a relevant style.

Coming later this week in our second post on consultancy: ‘The Consultancy Framework’ and its key role in shaping a successful consultancy project.