Have you ever observed someone who was clearly an expert in their field yet was unsuccessful in influencing others to support a specific plan or strategy? Expertise, by itself, is insufficient to achieving results in organizations. In addition to professional competence, demonstrating the art of partnering with leaders and clients is pivotal to our success as performance consultants. This is because performance consulting is a strategic process designed to enhance business results by maximizing the performance of people and organizations. And this is work we cannot do alone; we must be partnered with the leaders who own these business goals and needs. 

By “art of partnering,” I mean the interpersonal and collaborative approaches integral to working with others in a successful manner. A proven model for forming and deepening relationships with leaders is ACT: 

Access

Credibility

Trust

Access

I define access as a client’s willingness to provide face time to discuss business challenges, opportunities, and initiatives. Think of yourself as going on a road trip with a client. The client is the driver of the car because this is the client’s trip. You are in the passenger side of the vehicle using GPS and other tools to influence the client in terms of both the destination and the routing. As performance consultants, we cannot do any of this influencing if we are not in the car. That is what access is all about. 

Techniques I’ve observed performance consultants use to gain access to a specific leader include volunteering to work on a project for which the leader is a champion and leveraging current relationships with other managers—seeking their assistance to gain access to a leader with whom a relationship would be beneficial.

Credibility

Credibility is a client’s confidence in your capability to deliver results to the business. Note the phrase to the business. The focus of a strategic partnership is not on the solutions to be implemented, but on the business results to be achieved. This requires that performance consultants demonstrate strong knowledge of the business. If strengthening your knowledge of the business is a goal, here are some best practices I have seen others use with success: 

  • Turn your clients into your coach by asking for their advice on what you can do to learn more about the business goals, challenges, strategies, and processes for the function or group they lead.
  • Visit websites important to your clients. Engage clients in conversations to discuss issues that are raised through the information you obtain.
  • Initiate conversations with external consultants who, because of their relationships with a variety of organizations, have knowledge of the industry within which your organization operates. Seek their input on trends and issues that are surfacing in the industry.

Trust

Trust is a client’s confidence in your integrity and reliability to achieve results in support of the business. It can be the most fragile and elusive of the three factors essential for building and deepening client relationships. Trust is built over time and is the summation of multiple actions and events. Trust can be shattered by just one action; once lost, trust is very difficult to redevelop.

You will know you are trusted when clients seek out your opinion and input. Another indicator is when they share information in confidence. How do you gain and build trust? Some proven practices include: 

  • Being congruent in your words and actions; avoid giving mixed messages.
  • Demonstrate behaviors that are aligned with the values and norms of your organization. Being counterculture can raise questions regarding trustworthiness.
  • Accept accountability for your own actions and the results from those actions; avoid laying blame on others. 

Performance consulting means that relationships, of a strategic nature, must be developed and deepened with key leaders in your organization. Implement the ACT approach and, with time, those relationships will be realized. 

For a deep dive into this topic, join me at ATD 2017 International Conference & Exposition for the preconference workshop: Performance Consulting: The What, Why, and How.

ATD 2017