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ATD Blog

Consulting and Business Partnering Are Vital Capabilities for TD Professionals

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Developing expertise as a reliable consultant and business partner with inside and outside colleagues is a rite of passage for any talent development professional. That skillset can best be perfected by on-the-job experience.

Areas of expertise required in consulting and business partnering—one of the 23 capabilities within the Association of Talent Development’s new Talent Development Capability Model—comprise a veritable list of knowledge and skillsets. They include needs assessment, data analysis, communication, systems thinking, problem solving, negotiation, facilitation, and coaching. This capability resides within the Impacting Organizational Capability domain.

They are the engagement fundamentals of any two-way relationship needed to facilitate change or improvement in a business.

According to ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model, TD professionals with skills in consulting and business partnering should be able to:

  • Establish and manage organizational and business partnerships.
  • Partner with other units to guide talent requirements.
  • Manage stakeholders to sustain organizational and business relationships.
  • Achieve agreements and buy-in from stakeholders for courses of action.
  • Overcome organizational barriers to implementing TD strategies.

What are some challenges to winning valued recognition by colleagues as an expert in these areas? You may say they lurk everywhere and include such elusive hurdles as developing judgmental skills, synthesizing information to formulate recommendations or a course of action to agree upon, and gaining support or buy-in for the solution or strategy.

Donna Steffey, an international trainer and president of Chicago-based Vital Signs Consulting as well as a frequent ATD facilitator, addresses the question from a consultant’s perspective. She contends that the importance of relationship-building skills, especially the art of listening, cannot be overstated for any TD professional engaged in partnerships because of the multiple roles they must play. Above all, she says, they must be flexible.


“To excel as a learning consultant, one must become an aerialist,” she advises. “That’s because they walk a proverbial tightrope between being a consultant for their clients while also serving as a listener and learner for them. And if they’re also a subject matter expert who dispenses advice, that role can complicate the relationship further.”

Steffey says another important yet elusive skillset, especially in creating partnerships and the needs assessment approaches they often take, is developing cultural intelligence and a global mindset. That includes not only the ability to communicate with international partners and colleagues (the subject of the cultural awareness and inclusion capability) but also the abilities to perceive and interpret a given company’s business jargon so one can serve their needs.

The relationship with outside vendors is especially demanding. Another industry consultant contends that “the single biggest obstacle to successful relationships between TD organizations and their outside vendors is the failure of buyers to select the right supplier.”


She calls it a common mistake that is rooted partly in today’s over-abundance of vendors in the learning marketplace because buyers tend to winnow the crowded field as if they were judging entrees on a restaurant’s smorgasbord, hurriedly basing their evaluations on the convenient measurements of price, quality, and speed.

Strategic partnerships with talent consultants often fail, she says, and invariably it’s the vendor that gets blamed. Yet the single biggest culprit is the client’s own failure to manage the relationship by setting clear expectations, managing against them, and holding the vendor accountable when they aren’t met, he contends. “In short, they’re not good clients,” she argues.

So how do TD professionals develop such fundamental skillsets needed to perform some of their most critical but problematic duties? One plausible answer: They learn from the mistakes of others.

About the Author

Paul Harris is a freelance writer in Alexandria, Virginia.

1 Comment
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