Consultants best serve their clients by being consistently seen as approachable and interested in the client’s business problems
I would like to share my observations on the professional approach adopted by many consultants, how clients perceive them and the resulting impact on solving business problems.
First of all, I would like to clarify that I am not a Management Consultant. I work as an IT Consultant helping companies with system implementation and business process improvement. However, I imagine that most consultants find themselves in a similar situation when they enter a client office and start dealing with client staff for the first time.
In my experience, when a Consultant enters a client office for an assignment, they are definitely not considered as ‘one of us’ by client staff.
They are there to solve a specific problem and can be extremely approachable and friendly when they want to obtain vital information. However, they tend to limit this approachability to certain senior staff members that they need to influence.
If the approachability issue were just limited to the consultant’s social interactions that would be one thing, but it is also visible when consultants need to dig deeper to understand a problem.
Many consultants don’t appear interested in understanding the client’s pain as much as the in-house people feel it. This reserved air and controlled approachability can often limit their ability to get the full story from the client’s people, and this can translate into consultants delivering solutions that, while they may appear good enough to justify value for their expensive engagement fees, are in reality far less than ideal.
I suppose as with everything in life, there is no one right answer. But based on my experience so far, most Consultants want to keep their ‘treat-me-special’ image when they work at client sites. I have personally adopted a different approach and interestingly most of my client project sponsors and client staff have found this to be a refreshing change, even those at senior management levels.
I still remember the day when I got my IT consulting job and my former boss joked by saying, “So you are now leaving us to become one of them.”
As a consultant, I do believe we need to maintain our distinct identity by keeping our distance from internal client politics so that we can push for solutions when the client’s staff are unable to do so due to internal bureaucratic bottlenecks.
Beyond that though, I believe that consultants best serve their clients by being consistently seen as approachable and interested in the client’s business problems, not just by those who will pay the consultant’s hefty invoice but also by those who provide invaluable insights, albeit in small measures, without which Consultants would be unable to make any worthy breakthroughs.