Probably the greatest number of people who think they can consult are those who have never done it. It seems that consulting might have gone the way of teaching—“If you can’t do it, you consult!”
Unfortunately, there is a long string of failed consulting projects and frustrated clients who can attest that consulting is a skill that deserves separate study. Not every expert can consult. Rather, a good consultant must be trained in the tools and processes of consulting itself in order to guide internal or external clients to successful action and results.
Indeed, sharpening one’s skill and expanding one’s “bag of consulting” tools is essential. That’s the bread and butter of any “good” consulting workshop. But I think the hallmark of an “exceptional” consulting course is one that helps consultants reach a higher level interpersonal interactions—that nurture change, demonstrate measurable results, and promote continuous learning for all parties involved.
Why embrace the study of consulting?
Corporate America and many government agencies have adopted the notion of “Centers of Excellence” and “Service Centers” for many internal functions. This has given rise to the “internal consulting professional” who navigates the organization, engaging managers and employees in consulting-like interactions.
Add to this population the multitude of practicing external consultants, and the consulting field finds itself well-established with its own literature, associations, workshops, chat rooms, mentorships, and resources.
But when we look more closely at what consulting actually is—and the set of sophisticated tools and behaviors needed to foster both a successful consulting relationship AND a profitable business result—the worth of a masterful consultant becomes readily evident.
When I teach the ATD Consulting Skills Certificate course, I find that most participants come with a desire to learn the basic steps of consulting (contracting, data collection, feedback, project management, and so forth). But they tend to underestimate the powerful interpersonal skills necessary to form strong partnerships and obtain strategic results.
I am not talking about selling, telling people what to do, providing another set of hands, or delivering a training course or new organizational structure. Rather, real consultants have learned to speak an entirely different language—a language that can navigate conflict, create comfort and ease, negotiate resistance, influence towards needed action, build trust, manage ambiguity, put real issues on the table, gain commitment, state and confront hidden agendas, and frame feelings into words.
That’s a tall order. And it requires that the consultant “knows thyself” and is able to balance his/her own self with the needs of clients and organizations.
If you think such learning might help you get to a higher level of practice, join me in an upcoming Consulting Skills Certificate course on October 16-17 in Philadelphia, November 3-4 in Alexandria, Virginia, or online October 9 – November 13.