The Consultant's Responsibility
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
I've had a lot of uncomfortable experiences in consulting...
One time, when I was new, I was invited to listen in on some project work happening with a new client. We (our team) were at the point of doing a preliminary study, and it had the potential to turn into bigger, cascading work, depending on the findings.
In one meeting with the client, I was taken aback by the amount of talking (and lack of listening) our team was doing. At one point, I sent my boss an instant message to the effect of - someone needs to interject and ask the client if they have questions.
In that moment, our team listened to that recommendation. But it was too late; the proverbial foundation was already unsteady.
We never realized the potential. We gave them a lot of great information and accurate recommendations. But we didn't deliver what they wanted.
Don't let hubris be your downfall...
Another time, I came onto a project to replace a team member and in the first meeting I got to attend with the client, they seemed, well... more than a wee bit unhappy with us.
The dialogue seemed to indicate that there was a fundamental misunderstanding from the beginning about what the project would do for them.
Luckily, this instance was not a deal or relationship breaker. It *was a clear indicator that we, the consultants, needed to dig deeper in our communication and to make some course corrections to get ourselves back on track.
If a client does not understand something, whether it's the purpose of a system component being installed or the ultimate anticipated project outcome, it is the consultant's responsibility to rectify this.
It is also the consultant's responsibility to ask the right questions from the beginning to ensure what gets scoped covers the client's needs and wants in the way they are seeking to be served.
There are many challenges.
In the first example, I should have spoken up more, and sooner. I am not sure if it would have helped, but I will never have the chance to know now.
Regarding the second example, it is a true challenge to keep calm in the moment when someone is unhappy with your work. It can feel like a personal attack. This is the type of situation where we, as consultants, must employ mindfulness.
Mindfulness to own the problems at hand.
Mindfulness to communicate effectively with the client in the moment - not only to calm them, but to ensure we get clarity and consensus on what changes our team needs to make happen.
Mindfulness to orchestrate a new outcome that the client will be, hopefully, more than satisfied with.
Our job is to solve problems, not engage in a blame game.
As a consultant, the best way to lay the foundation for an ideal outcome is by asking lots of questions and doing lots of listening.