I started consulting about change management and team and leadership development 14 years ago. It’s not always been easy. Most times I’ve been good, a few times I’ve been mediocre, and on occasion I’ve done great work for my clients. I’ve worked with other consultants, some of whom have been constantly good, some great, some not so much. I’ve taught consulting to others. I’ve seen their struggles and their successes and just how challenging it is to do great work for their clients.
As I aspire to be consistently great, I find it helpful to differentiate it from “good.”
There are times your client needs something done but just doesn’t have the time or resources—perhaps to facilitate a meeting or teach a class. A good consultant will do.
There are times your client needs an expert for a tricky situation—perhaps to design a curriculum, develop a course, or implement an LMS. A good consultant will do.
And there are times where your client has a big problem or a tough situation—perhaps to attract and retain talent, to take the organization to a new level, or to resolve a problem that appears to be intractable. A good consultant will not do; they need a great one.
A great consultant is more than someone hired to do a job; they become a trusted adviser. They are sought after. They become the one person with whom the client wants to do business. They work together over time on multiple and varied projects.
As a consultant, how do you move from good to great?
- Good and great consultants bring stellar expertise in the task at hand. Great consultants bring their deep expertise but are not bound by it; they have a broader view and realize the complexity of the situation. While they have a hammer and are good at using it, they know other tools may be required.
- Good and great consultants deliver what they promise. No questions asked. Great consultants deliver more than promised. Unasked. They just do.
- Good and great consultants learn quickly. They immerse themselves in the situation, problem, and organization. They stay abreast of new trends in their field. Great consultants help others in the organization learn as well. They freely share knowledge. They mentor. They coach. When they leave, others are more capable.
- Good and great consultants hope to do more work for this client. Great consultants make another engagement an outcome of the client’s satisfaction with their current work. Their energy is spent on doing this work right now to the best of their ability. They know that when they do that, future business will come.
- Good and great consultants are skilled at analyzing the situation and making solid recommendations for action. Great consultants uncover the underlying dynamics. They are not afraid to ask tough questions. They know that the presenting problem may not be the real problem and that training may not be the right solution. They dig deep and get to the root cause.
- Good and great consultants analyze and provide an objective view of the situation. Great consultants are courageous enough to provide an unvarnished view of the underlying dynamics impacting the situation. It is not always easy feedback to give or receive but is vital to understanding and clarity. Even more importantly, they present a solution that really solves the problem over the long-term.
- Good and great consultants care deeply about their work. Great consultants care just as deeply about the client and their organization.
- Good and great consultants want to look good in the eyes of their client. Great consultants want the client to look good and are willing to play a supporting role rather than a leading one.
Becoming a trusted adviser takes time, courage, intelligence, and caring. When that shift occurs you have the honor of being a sounding board and the chance to stand by your client’s side on the toughest, most intractable problems. You may be called late at night or on weekends—and that is when you’ll know you’ve moved from a good consultant to a great one.