Tips for Internal Consultancy
From our considerable experience of internal consultancy work, we have listed below a few of what we feel are the key tips for anyone working in this field. We hope that you find them helpful.
1. Success in consultancy is as much about managing relationships as content
Of course, for some "expert" assignments the content is crucial. However, for most it is the building and maintaining of relationships - particularly between consultant and client - that leads to successful assignments.
2. What all clients want
Each client is different - in the way they see your role, in the level of involvement they wish, and in the sort of results they seek. With experience, one learns to read the situation, adapt, and establish an agreed working relationship. However, the following are common to virtually all clients:
- no unexpected surprises
More anything else, this needs to be the touchstone that governs any consultancy assignment. If anything is going amiss, clients want to know in case it impacts on something else they or others are doing.
- a success
It's easy to forget this at times, but almost all clients want a success - it reflects on them just as much as it reflects on you. But how does your client define success?
- clarity and flexibility
They want to be clear what your role is and what you are planning to do, but also expect you to be flexible and able to adapt to changed circumstances. Thus, work to define your role and then stay in it, but be prepared to flex and adapt when needed.
- your interest
They expect you to be interested in their work, their ideas, their people, and the issues they face.
3. Have a consultancy process
You need to have in mind a consultancy process that you expect to progress through, as a game-plan for both yourself and the client. Not just because it is tidy but because it helps you to manage the client relationship. The one that we use envisages an assignment as progressing through five broad stages:
- Entry - where one builds the initial relationship with the client and carries out an initial survey or scoping to establish what the assignment is about, what it should aim to achieve, the likely time and effort required, and possible risks and difficulties.
- Contracting - where one agrees with the client what the task is, what the consultant's role is, and how it should be tackled.
- Diagnosis - gathering information and ideas to arrive at options and a plan of action
- Intervention - taking actions to deliver the results, be it a report or organising the changes.
- Withdrawal - ensuring that the client organisation can carry on without you and leaving the ground clear for your future involvement.
This is a general model and you may find it best to amend it to something that suits your own particular work and style. You may need to customise a process for a particular assignment.
4. On the practice of consulting
- the "golden rule" - start with an
initial survey or scoping
The initial meeting between client and consultant is crucial. If the client is in a rush or under pressure, there is a danger that you might be agreeing to a brief, resources and timescales without knowing very much at all about the issues and difficulties. An initial survey followed by a brief proposal and a further meeting, gives both you and the client a much better basis for moving forward.
- If you are unsure or
wish to change the brief - go back to the client
During the assignment, if you become at all unsure about the brief or feel that it needs to be changed, go back to the client and discuss it. If you feel that way then the likelihood is that the client feels the same. If things are deviating from what the client expects - tell them. What they want most of all is no unexpected surprises.
- Be organised
If you are acting as a consultant, the client expects that you will be professional. To maintain that image, you do need to be well organised. If you start to make errors or miss meetings, then that image will be eroded. Plan and project manage your assignment well.
- Managing expectations is key
When assignments do start to flounder, in most cases it is because a mis-match develops between the clients expectations and the consultants plans and activities. This is why in many assignments, regular stock-takes, perhaps by note or phone, are needed.
- Get connected and stay connected
If you want to get and retain the client's confidence and respect, you need to convince them that you are connected - that you understand their world. Some key pointers are:
- get to know the client's business so that you understand their pressures, concerns and priorities;
- be aware of other projects going on so that you have a similar context to them;
- try to keep connected with the daily happenings in the team e.g. concerns and priorities.
- Consciously build your own reputation with
The more respect that the client has for you and your work, the more impact you will have and the more they will ask you to input. It also means that at the end you can withdraw to return.
5. Learning to Read Situations
If managing relationships is the key to success in consulting, then it is the behaviour and interpersonal skills of the consultant that make that happen. All really skilled consultants have excellent interpersonal skills. They need them in order to:
- read situations
- build empathy with clients and others
- gain the trust and respect of those they are working with
- facilitate meetings
- influence others
- tailor communications to suit the audience
- predict peoples' reactions
- avoid or get out of difficult situations
These skills - listening, observing, questioning, challenging, influencing, negotiating - are fundamental to good consulting and can all be developed through training and experience. They form a key element of our consultancy skills training.
6. About you as a consultant
- Where is your consulting "comfort
Your comfort zone is the style that you are personally most comfortable with. For some it is "process consulting", for others "facilitation", for yet others it is "expert advice". We can all flex and operate outside of this comfort zone - but only within limits. What is your comfort zone and what are the limits?
- What are your strengths and
Planning, organising, interpersonal skills, creativity? Identify them and then major on your strengths and start to develop to remedy your weaknesses.
- What is your organisational role?
Internal consultants often have a dual role. They consult but they are part of a group with functional responsibilities which carry a monitoring accountability e.g. internal audit. Such dual roles can make uneasy bedfellows and confuse both you and the client.
7. Consultancy Ethics
And finally - consultancy can be a seductive role. One can be in a situation of having influence and knowledge far beyond what people in the client's team have. Some consultants can be tempted to misuse this. But as a consultant you do need a set of ethics to work to.
If a client invites you into their operation to help them, they have the right to expect that you:
- respect the client's knowledge
- be careful not to be over-prescriptive or judgemental
- respect confidentiality
- avoid becoming involved in the internal politics
- remain in the role that the client expects you to fulfil