BEST PRACTICES IN CONSULTING – Selecting a Conscious Consultant: How to see the fire that makes the difference

iStock_000003126190SmallI argued in a previous post What Clients Want – And Consultants Don´t Always Give, that organizations and executives are increasingly looking for a new category of consultants that I call Conscious Consultants. These are consultants who can focus on their clients’ needs and on the noble purpose that inspires the activity of consulting: to help others do better. So when it comes to selecting a consultant to work with you, what exactly should you look for to make sure the consultant you hire is a conscious consultant? tweet.jpg

Checking whether your candidate has knowledge of the topic he or she will consult in sounds like an obvious starting point. Asking for a brief presentation about this is important, and I will assume you all know how to do this or that you can bring in people in your organization who can do this expertly.  At the same time, it is such an obvious criterion that it defeats its purpose: the consultancy process does not depend on this to be successful, but rather on the consultant’s ability to make this specific subject matter content and expertise available, and apply it in practical and doable solutions for his or her clients.

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BEST PRACTICES IN CONSULTING – Conscious Consulting: What Clients Want – And Consultants Don’t Always Give

Conscious Consultants

Run a Google search and you’ll find over 606,000,000 hits for “consulting”. Yes, that’s right: six hundred six million. Consulting today is such a wide category that it’s impossible to define it. When you hear someone say, “I’m a consultant”, you are often left wondering what they are consulting in, and what it is they exactly do.

Many of you may wonder what makes a good consultant (or consulting firm), regardless of the area of expertise. How can you tell a good consultant from one who is not when the offering available is so large? It’s not only impossible to define the consulting world; it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish the good from the not-so-good at first glance.

For over 10 years, I’ve been interacting with clients and colleagues in the consulting world. Leading and attending recruiting processes in more than 15 countries on 4 continents has allowed me to see hundreds of consultants in the interview and experiential context all trying to show me their skills. I’d like to share my insights here, in the hope that they will help you identify the consultants that can truly help you and your organization.  I would also like to put forward a new category on the basis of these insights: the “conscious consultant”.

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Dare to Care: How Compassion Impacts the Bottom-line

Compassionate leadershipBecky’s frustration grew as she watched Joan blow up in her office yet again. Becky had served as the Director of Sales for a successful pharmaceutical company for the past six years and struggled with her relationship with her Sales Manager, Joan. Careful to not say anything that would trigger Joan, Becky began to hold back in their conversations and avoided meeting with Joan altogether.

“Not again.” Becky thought. “It seems that every time I meet with Joan she gets upset when I ask her a tough question or I disagree with her position. This is driving me crazy!  How can we work like this?”

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Conscious Business in Action: On Undiscussables – From Permission to Courage

CourageIs your job driving you insane? Yes, so many people say so, yes they have experienced frustrations, disappointments, toxic cultures, impossible bosses. But, they want to do a good job, to make a difference, to be productive. So what practical steps can you take to untangle the dilemmas, confusions and contradictions of organisational life?

Having the courage to speak up, to ask for clarity, to raise your dilemma, to ‘discuss the undiscussable‘ – Fred Kofman speaks to how to do this skillfully – it makes complete sense. So why don’t we all speak up, why not say, ‘I’m confused about when to innovate and when to stick to the rules, can we talk about that?‘ Why not say, ‘I don’t have the time to do both of those tasks by Friday, can you help me?

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Conscious Business in Action: Integrating Process and Outcome Goals

Marathon RunnersThe London Marathon had banners on every mile marker. The 18th mile marker had a now funny quote: “Why the hell am I here, why did I not burn that damn sign-up form?”. There are times where, beyond your commitment to your goals, everything looks insurmountable.       My marathon trainer used to say “focus your attention on that signpost 150 yards ahead, all you need to do is get to it, then you’ll know what to do next.”

Process versus Outcome

The question underpinning  Fred’s LinkedIn post (Class of 2013: Find Your Spiritual Harness)  is “OK, so how do you stay focused on the process, when there is so much at stake, when you are terribly invested in the outcome?

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No Gap No Coaching – How Quantitative Assessments Play a Key Role in Enabling the Coaching Process

No gap no coachingAt Axialent we take coaching seriously. It is a strong part of our culture and used as both a developmental tool and as an internal resource when facing challenges. Coaching is our way of supporting one another. As an active member of the Axialent Community, I’ve been coached several times, as part of a developmental process, as a volunteer to help a trainee coach, or on my own request in the face of a specific issue.

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Is it your boss? Or is it you?

“She micromanages”, “He delegates too much”, “She doesn’t allow us to give our input”, “His requests are indecipherable”, “She demands too much in too little time”. The list could go on and on. Difficult bosses. They seem determined to make our lives impossible.

Yes, there are challenging bosses out there. And there’s also our ability to respond to any given situation. Consider the following scenarios. For each situation, take a moment to honestly think how you would respond, what’s the immediate reaction that comes up in those few seconds after you are posed with the situation?

  • When there’s a mistake or you are asked about a breakdown:

a)    You identify who’s responsible for getting you into this situation. For example, “The report isn’t ready because the Finance team didn’t post the data in the internal system”.

b)    You acknowledge your contribution to the problem. For example, “I forgot to explicitly request the Finance team the data I needed to ensure I’d get it on time”.

  • When your manager delegates a task and you are unclear about a few things:

a)    You leave the conversation thinking what an ambiguous request and that you’ll do the best you can with the information you were given

b)    You ask for clarification

  • When you are asked your opinion in the middle of a heated team meeting:

a)    You give a polite opinion wanting to avoid creating more disruption

b)    You express what you think in a way that is honest and at the same time respectful to others

  • If you disagree with your manager:

a)    You share your point of view with colleagues, but not with your manager. He doesn’t really listen, so what’s the point?

b)    You express your disagreement with your manager, stating the facts that underlie your opinion and acknowledging that your perspective is one of many possibilities, not “the” truth.

The options might be a bit extreme but they capture two archetypes: the victim and the player. In the “a” responses the focus is on what others did wrong or should do different. You suffer the consequences of external circumstances (the finance team didn’t do their job, your boss makes unclear requests). In the “b” responses the focus is on how you contributed in some way to the situation and what you can do. You respond to external circumstances (you ask for clarification, you express your truth).

Acting as a victim might be more an automatic reaction than a conscious choice. It protects you from blame and feelings of failure. There’s safety in feeling innocent and watching from the sidelines. But it’s also disempowering. You get trapped in the assumption that there’s nothing you can do.

It’s not you, it’s me

The first step is to recognize that it’s not all about your manager. If you believe her actions are wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it, you are trapped in the mental model of the victim.

The most significant shift from victim to player is moving from a frame of mind of “it’s not up to me” to “what can I do”. A powerful way to do so is paying attention to your language.

As we saw in the examples at the beginning, the victim speaks in third person and focuses on factors beyond his control: “The finance team didn’t post the information”; “It was too little time”; “The request was unclear”; “Management doesn’t support the idea”.

The language of the player instead starts with “I” and includes specific actions you could have taken or can now take. “I didn’t ask the finance team for the information”; “I underestimated the time it would take me to complete the report”; “I did not understand the request”; “I couldn’t convince management to support the idea.”

Another telling difference is that the victim uses the language of “should” indicating obligation and judgment, while the player uses the language of “could” indicating possibility and learning.

I’m not advocating for you to become a language fanatic paying attention to each specific word, but to see language as an expression of your underlying frame of mind and to start paying attention to your automatic responses. Are you focusing on external causality or personal accountability? Are you focusing on what others should do or what you could do?

You can’t change how somebody else behaves. But you can influence through your thoughts and behaviors. Next time you are faced with an ambiguous request, instead of thinking “he should be better at delegating”, consider asking clarifying questions around quality standards, available resources and time of delivery. You are helping your boss be a better boss. And you leave the conversation empowered to actually get the task done.

A footnote for the leader

Just as we are inviting the reader to take ownership on how he or she responds to a “difficult boss”, as a leader you also can take ownership if you have an unmotivated team member.  How might you be contributing to this person’s engagement with the project, department or company? What example are you setting through your actions? How much do you focus on what others should have done vs. what you can do? Are you having honest and respectful conversations around performance? Are you delegating clearly?

Creating an effective and meaningful relationship goes both ways. When we are unhappy with somebody else’s role or behaviors, a lot of energy goes into complaining, venting or denying. Shifting from outside causality to personal accountability, from blaming to owning, opens the space to identify what can be learned, what can be done and how to make it happen.

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About the author

Tim is Axialent’s Brazil Associate Partner. He has developed his professional career through more than 25 years in senior leadership positions in the fields of consumer packaged goods, life sciences and management consulting. Read more >

 

 

Easy Yesses vs. Conscious No’s

Today’s leaders didn’t get to where they are by saying no to opportunities. Most arrived at their positions by saying a lot of yesses. Yes to a rush-marketing assignment. Yes to a CEO’s special request. Yes to implementing a new technology across a global network. These are widely praised as good leadership traits, but how often is a leader congratulated for saying no?

These many yesses require leaders to inspire those they lead with a common purpose and successfully transform organizational visions into profitable realities. But with the many yesses along the way also comes endless meetings due to tangents, impromptu brainstorming, more people on meetings than what is really needed, and long hours at the office to manage the overflow. Company cultures driven by yesses, where there is no moderation in who attends meetings, who’s allowed to jump in on a conference call, and what new ideas should be tried out are also the ones with the longest work hours, the most relationship issues, and the most dissatisfied employees.

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