CEO, Handiman Services
Consulting is one of 4 developmental interventions to bring about a desired change. Though colloquially these words are used interchangeably; each is distinct.
• Consulting: A consultant is brought in7 to provide solution to an identified / felt problem
• Coaching : A coach helps one to find one’s own solution appropriate to one’s context & goals
• Mentoring : A mentor prescribes a solution from his / her own experience , specific to a situation
• Counselling : A counsellor analyses past to trace & help remove the root cause
Consultant’s Traditional Role
Consultant’s role is how he / she see it. Is your destination to advise and submit a recommended plan? Or is it to create business advantage for your client? The latter requires a fundamental shift in the outlook.
Traditionally a consultant will study the stated problem area, use the experience and knowledge & devise a solution that is best for the client & weave a plan on how best to translate that strategy into an action plan. In today’s dynamic, for a consultant to stand out from the rather over flooded market–will require some thinking. Here is how I see future trends and hence 5 high level tips for success.
1) Transition from a Service Provider to a Business Partner
Conventional consultancy used to end in a report (regardless of what client does with it). Today, consultants have moved to an active mode of ‘providing solution’, Now the time is to take a further leap from being a Solution provider to a business partner.
Providing solution relates to a situation, a problem or an assignment is static. Being a business partner is dynamic – an ongoing relationship, beyond an assignment. It requires taking (psychological) ownership of client’s business to understand and live client’s needs, pain and dream.
Being a business partner is about creating a distinct, measurable business advantage for the client, as if it were your business and creating sustainable value .You must think what unassailable business advantage you are creating, beyond addressing situation at hand.
2) Move From Transactional to Transformational Approach
Traditionally most consultants are transactional. A transactional approach is about going through the drill of completing a task – a more cut and dry, discontinuous approach. It is an activity done for someone else, at a cost. A transformational approach is connecting with the purpose, holding a long term perspective. It is about involvement of your soul. Here you are an involved creator, not a dispassionate provider.
There is a difference in the starting point of the two approaches. Transactional approach emanates from consultant’s own skills and experience to try and see what he can do with what he has. Transformational approach begins at customer end; to see how best to address client need with what you have. Not just because I am also a trained / credentialised coach, I believe, a coaching approach – which is transformational in nature – is the best approach to anything, including consulting.
My coaching approach to consulting practice has 6 features:
• High customer focus- Everything starts from what a customer needs.
• Process based -There needs to be person independent process/ method / mechanisms.
• Action orientation -The job is not to preach or create an academic document but to create a ground level advantage for the client through real action.
• Capability building -An effective consultant is one who does not create dependence. In addition to addressing task at hand, the consultant should leave client in a more capable position than when the project started.
• Non prescriptive-The approach is to help, not preach. It is to evolve a solution, not cut paste a ‘proven’ one.
• Non domain dependent-The skill of a consultant is in understanding the customer more than being an expert in a field. Just as the skill of a doctor lies more in correct diagnosis of his/her patient’s situation, than in prescribing a treatment.
Knowledge and expertise are secondary to the wisdom to assess the gaps and to know what will work best in given context. Consequently I believe that a consultant need not be a domain expert. In fact not being a domain expert has an advantage of being open to unproven or unconventional solutions.
3) Create Unique Differentiator
Since the world is full of self proclaimed consultants (on a lighter side, anyone who does not have anything else to do, calls themselves as a consultant) a consultant’s worth depends on what difference he is making to client’s business. Client needs to be convinced on “What value you can create that most can’t”. It is about building your own unique differentiator. For this you need to answer two questions:
(i) What unique value are you creating: Is it capability building / providing high clarity to the client with your coaching /overseeing implementation / is it in follow through (after sales service) and being there when client needs you?
(ii) What is the source of your value creation: Is it your crystal sharp clarity / diversity of your exposure / your ability to connect dots and cross that leverage one learning to another / your ability to create out of box options?
4) Develop High Customer Centricity
Customer centricity is what most people are aware but not many understand it. In true customer centric, person is a solution creator. He doesn’t sell what he has but provides what a client needs. He acts as a client’s representative and not of the organisation which employs him.
A true customer centric person is focused not on a person (customer) but the cause (need of a customer) he is not a ‘Yes’ man. At times, saying ‘No’ to a customer, challenging him in customer’s interest. It is his courage of conviction and commitment to the cause which creates sustainable advantage for the customer.
5) Collaborate, Not Compete
To me, a consultant’s value is more in his diversity, than his speciality. I think it is the flexibility; it is the width of experience spectrum more than that knowledge and skill which will win the battle.
Therefore a consultant needs to be open and interested in seeking different exposures, viewpoints in understanding more than what task at hand demands. The power therefore is in ilding networks of symbiotic, synergistic collaborations.