• Document: Masterful Consulting 1 Keith Merron
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Masterful Consulting1 Keith Merron Sam, an eager young consultant, was leading his first client engagement. Bright and aggressive, with a fresh MBA under his belt, he had been under the tutelage of one of the best partners in his consulting firm for three years. Now, having received a set of important distinctions and a proprietary consulting process, he was ready to strut his stuff. He did everything his partner taught him, and it seemed to work. He showed the clients all the important and relevant research that pointed to the flaws in the client organization. He used a team of bright consultants to gather and analyze data about the client, its competitors, and key trends in the industry. He showed the client the changes it needed to make to get ahead of the industry in its market space. At each step along the way, the client seemed eager, interested, engaged, and impressed with Sam’s know-how. At the final meeting, Sam’s report was well received and a team of leaders in the client organization almost instantly accepted the recommendations he made. They assured sam of their commitment to implementing these changes and even adopted Sam’s sensible timeline, which balanced a high degree of urgency with awareness that these things take time. At the end of this meeting, Sam was one happy consultant. Months later, he could not have been more disappointed. For the first few weeks, the client began making plans to implement the recommendations. However, an unexpected dip in sales, coupled with some missed product development deadlines, caused the client to shelve some of Sam’s recommendations. They assured him it was a temporary problem, and they would get back on track as soon as this temporary setback was addressed. They never did. It was obvious to Sam that the process and the expertise he provided were right on target. The fault, clearly, lay in the client’s lack of ability to deliver on its end and to stick with the plan. In debriefing with the partner about the failed effort, the partner pointed out some things Sam could have done differently, offering clever tricks of the trade that might have made a difference. The partner also pointed out that these things happen and that it was part of the learning process. “You are destined to do great things,” the partner said. “Don’t let it get you down.” The partner’s sage counsel was welcome, and Sam was eager to tackle the next client opportunity with renewed vigor. Little did he know that it was almost inevitably doomed to fail. It would make money, but it wouldn’t make a difference. Nor did the partner have any inkling of this. No one else in the firm did either. They were making plenty of money, in fact, with enough financial success that this and other failures were easily shrugged off. The failure pattern was left unexamined while the consulting firm got to continue the game. Sam’s story is repeated time after time in consulting engagements all over the world. Many consultants have seen outcomes like Sam’s many times yet find themselves in the same scenario. Caught in the same pattern that most of the consulting world is following, they cannot see an alternative. As a result, many, if not most clients are either cynical about consultants or angry about how intractable the whole system is. Yet they too continue to participate in the pattern, hoping that the next time they hire a consultant, the outcome will be different. It rarely is. Savior and Problem-Solver To understand how to break out of this pattern, we need to go beneath the surface of the rules of typical consulting approaches and examine the goals and strategies that drive those rules. We will start with goals, for the goals of consultants, as for any human being, form and inform the strategies they use. Take a moment and ask yourself: What do you want as a consultant? Why do you consult in the first place? You could want many things. If you are like most consultants, however, your goals probably fall into one of three areas. •To add value (fix a problem, plug a hole, introduce a new process or system) •To make a lot of money •To make a profound difference—to shift the organization to a new level. The primary goals of many consultants employing the typical rules of consulting are to add value and to make a lot of money. The consultant typically offers help in the form of expert advice or an expert process. In a competitive bidding situation, often the consultant must also convince the client that this expertise cannot be found elsewhere and not only is it well worth it, but the client is at risk of failing without it. In most cases, clients are inclined to believe this is so. In addition, the consultant will often leverage the talents of others to expedite the consulting process for the client. These goals, to add value and to make money, get translated into strategies, which in turn

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