By Brad Minor, M.Ed. Candidate in Human Resource Development, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University
Sometimes what is best for a client in a consulting relationship is not doing exactly what the client asks of the consultant in the exact way the client wishes for it to be accomplished. Effective consulting sometimes means looking outside the scope of the presenting problem for answers that will address the root causes of the problem. These causes are often multifaceted, and sometimes a client may not realize that a cause exists separate from – and is hidden far beneath – the problem; all he or she knows is that some type of “pain” is present (Block, 1981); he or she may think he or she knows where that pain is located, though he or she may not actually know what is causing the pain.
McLachlan (1999) said, “Putting the client first is not necessarily the same as doing what the client wants.” This is true in that sometimes a client does not realize that he or she does not know what he or she wants. Block (1981) said, “As a consultant, I never accept the presenting problem as the real problem without doing my own data collection and analysis.” It is the responsibility of the consultant not to do what he or she is told, but to gather the right data, analyze it, and find ways to address the underlying causes of the organization’s pain.
As Chicago-based consultant Lee Johnsen stated in a recent interview, “A physician may deal with the symptoms, but that only goes so far – the causes also need to be dealt with.” We must keep this idea in mind when deciding whether to please our clients or do what is best for them; sometimes the best course of action might be to make recommendations that hurt the client’s feelings or break the status quo.
As Pat Lencioni said in an article for Business Week, “Clients are looking for transparency, humility, vulnerability, and honesty-the opposite of what is often given to them.” Honesty is clearly an important tool in an effective consultant’s arsenal, even when it causes discomfort or resistance. We must be honest with our clients when we find root causes that require us to offer recommendations that might fall outside the scope of the presenting problem.
Block, P. (2000). Flawless consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Lencioni, P. (2010). Naked consulting: what clients really want. Business Week, February 23, 2010. Retrieved April 20th, 2011, from http://www.businessweek.com
Ron, D. M. L. (January 01, 1999). Factors for consulting engagement success. Management Decision, 37, 5.)