Personal Development

Effective Consulting Step #4: Tools / “Hands”

…now for the fourth & final step in the series on “the path to successful consulting & coaching – tools! (if you’re just jumping in here, start with the first post for context).

…tools! tools!…finally!…a consultant’s dream! Time to open your the toolbox, dazzle with frameworks, approaches, how much you know, how valuable you are, right?? WRONG!!

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Nothing could be worse! After painstakingly building a relationship of trust and engaging the heart & mind, don’t blow it up here. By this point your client should be eager and energized to move forward. If you lambast them with your arsenal of tools they’ll be deflated, disillusioned and wonder why they hired you in the first place (“I knew this was going to get heavy”).

What does it look like? For a moment visualize with me a professional golfer getting ready for a shot…she eyes the next hole, paces quietly, surveys the green from different perspectives, walks quietly to her golf bag, chooses ONE club (out of many!)…then lines up the shot.

Translate the analogy to consulting…A good consultant listens intently, builds trust, takes inventory of the situation, reaches into his quiver of tools and chooses the one necessary to take the next step.

How do you do that? Here are some pointers:

  1. Make it logical. A good sign that you’ve actually done steps 1-3 well is that the tools seem “natural.” Sure, there may have to be explanation on proper usage, but it doesn’t feel like a “requirement” or “checking the box”…it’s actually an enabler that helps take a step forward. If it doesn’t feel that way, you’ve either missed a step in the journey, or it’s the wrong tool.
  2. Speak the client’s language. Nothing is more frustrating than being “talked down to” or feeling like we’ve made a “mountain out of a mole hill.” Wrap your “tool talk” in your clients words to make it theirs…they don’t need to know the technical lingo. Example…you can say “it’s time to do a stakeholder-force-fields-analysis” (techno-heavy), or you could simply say “why don’t we think about how others see the pros & cons of this project” (plain English).
  3. Make tools invisible. Your client doesn’t need to know the technical nuts-n-bolts of your methodology…just enough to contribute and engage with it effectively. In fact, it’s your job to manage the complexity behind the scenes and keep it as invisible as possible…like the backstage of a theater. Making it look simple and organic on the front-stage is the key value you bring.

This final step of the series is the real acid test of your skill as a consultant/coach, since you’ll quickly know how well you’ve done on the previous steps (or not). However, don’t panic or think it’s abnormal when you need to circle back – you’ll have to (often)!…or feel like you have to get it right the first time – you won’t!

Think of an airliner on a long flight – when it inevitably hits turbulence, the pilot goes up or down in altitude until he finds smoother air. By the same token…you’re the pilot!…you’ll have to iterate and go back and forth between steps to get it right. That’s the joy and the art of coaching and consulting!


Effective Consulting Step #3: Approach & Process / “Eyes”

If you’re following along on my proposed “path to successful consulting & coaching”, we’re now on step 3 – process (eyes). If you’re just jumping in I suggest starting at the beginning of the series for context…(1st post)

Now that you have clarity on where you are, have established credibility and focused on the mindset & destination, it’s time to lay out a path to get there. How do you know if you’re ready? The clearest sign is that people are asking for it…”how do we make it happen?…what do we do?…let’s move!” (Incidentally the clearest sign you’re not ready is if people are stuck in the previous steps – “why are we here?…I don’t see the need?…”)

Image result for processAs you move into this step, try to make the progression feel organic. It sounds like: “since we know where we’re headed, let’s talk about the way we’re going to get there.”

Here are principles to keep in mind:

  1. Stay as high as possible as long as possible (no, we’re not talking about drugs). Communicate in terms of roadmap and macro-phases, not steps. People understand there’s a “beginning, middle and an end,” so connect with them at this level. Although there may very well be sub-phases and steps, do they need to know? Probably not. You’re in the drivers seat.
  2. Shine the headlights only on the next 100 feet. Continuing on the previous point, if we need to work in lockstep at a detailed level, then only explain what comes next. Don’t overwhelm them with future steps that are to come (…and often likely to change as a function of previous steps).
  3. Always communicate in terms of outcomes. While the activity itself might get messy, always go back to “what we’re trying to achieve in this phase” and how it fits to the overall big picture (back to destination mindset). This is amazingly clarifying, unifies people around outcomes, and helps untangle from “the technique.”

Clearly, the step of “process” crosses the border into “how” territory. As mentioned above, aim do it organically in a way that provides a way to move forward, not a labyrinth to be overcome.


Effective Consulting Step #2: Focus on the Fundamentals / “Head”

In the post before last I made the case for the four sequential steps required to engage in effective consulting (as well as the risk of getting it backwards!). Since then I covered step 1 – establishing a personal connection – “the heart.” In this post we’ll cover step 2 – focus on the fundamentals/mindset – “the head.”

Assuming you’ve done a good job of gaining trust and establishing a common view of “where we are” (step 1), you’re ideally positioned to propose “where to go.” Keep in mind that you’re not yet diving into “how to get there” (a common trap that short circuits the outcome) – but rather gaining consensus on the direction and destination.

Instead of getting tangled up in the mechanics of taking the next turn in the road, it allows people to fully engage in forward movement towards a destination (don’t worry, we’ll come to the need for taking the next turn in the road, but clarifying the destination comes first).

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So how do you do that in practice? Let me propose the following principles:

  1. Clarify the mindset. Are we thinking short term or long term?…Tactical or strategic?… …Hands-on or take distance? Experimental/iterative or deliberate? Whatever you choose, define & communicate it very explicitly.
  2. Illustrate it. It’s easy for # 1 to sound really theoretical, so make it come to life. Do an icebreaker, tell a story, ask a question…For example, if you want people to take a big picture view of major threats facing the organization, you could ask: “what could put us out of business in the next 2-3 years if we don’t do anything about it?” That’ll get people to think at the right level.
  3. Let others enrich it. Be sure to have participants contribute to making the destination and mindset their own. Have them test some of their ideas to see if they fit. Let them tell a story that brings it to life for them. Write one of their quotes on the board that expresses it in their words. In a recent strategy session with an executive team the COO said: “I want us to focus on what we can do as leaders that our employees can’t do.” His powerful challenge became one of the driving forces for the entire workshop.
  4. Reinforce it. Don’t walk away from the bedrock you’ve just laid together. When you get stuck in detail, let the destination & mindset lift you back out. Make it visual so you can point to it and hold each other accountable. For example, if we agreed to have an experimental mindset but we’re falling into a perfectionist trap, say: “since we agreed to be quick an dirty, what would it take to get this idea in front of a customer in the next 30 days?”

In summary “the fundamentals” (i.e. mindset & destination) are like a compass that point you in the right direction. Actively use it, unite around it, let it be the rallying cry that continually drives the team forward.