Sometimes its good to poke a little fun at ourselves. Dilbert holds a special place in the hearts of many business-people because it makes jabs at some of the things we deal with on a daily basis. The purpose of this series of Dilbert posts is not simply for laughs (though it does serve that purpose as well). The main focus is to help us receive some insight into our working lives, and perhaps grow a little from it.
A general favorite comic for consultants is the one above. Dogbert simply combines the words “con” and “insult,” and decides to become a consultant. While obviously, this stretches the truth of the industry, it does highlight the unfortunate stereotype that consultants can receive from some. After all, a commonly quoted jab by Carl Ally (1924-1999) defines a consultant as “someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time, and then keeps the watch.”
So how can consultants separate themselves from that consulting stereotype and make headway within the industry? Below we highlight a couple strategies which can separate the you from the rest of the pack:
Best-selling author and former consultant Pat Lencioni is a huge advocate for openness in the consulting industry, “clients are more interested in candor, humility, and transparency than they are in confidence, authority, and perfection. That’s not to say that competence is irrelevant…But once we’ve reached that level, the best way to differentiate ourselves from the competition…is to be vulnerable with them.” This requires that consultants need to be open and humble in order completely gain client confidence. It means you admit mistakes when you need to. It is confidence that allows you to act in this way because confidence forces you to engage other ideas in order to create better ones. This helps you defeat the stereotype of the irritating know-it-all consultant and helps establish you as a real person.
From the very beginning of the engagement, consultants need to demonstrate empathy. This means mentally placing yourself in the shoes of the client and the stakeholders. Without properly listening and empathizing, many consultants miss insights and holes which probe key issues within the firm. As a consultant, you need to be sure that you don’t blow off what a client says, even if you think that you “know better.” Maybe you do know better, or maybe you don’t. But don’t disregard the fact that the client likely has been working in a particular industry and at his or her company for a much longer period of time than you have. Both the client and the stakeholders are experts in their own right, since they are dealing with the issues first-hand. So be sure to listen and take note of the insights that these people have to offer.
Some consultants either resort to “one-size-fits-all” strategies when providing a solution. While certain tactics might have been successful on similar projects, no two engagements are identical. Therefore before taking the easy route, consultants need to be sure to make they have dug in and found the root of the issue, instead of treating the symptoms.
Alternatively, some consultants take the route of “consultative” consulting:essentially telling the client what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. Lencioni notes that good consultants are willing to “confront clients (kindly) with difficult information and perspectives, even if the client might not like what he or she hears.” Again, by digging into the issue, consultants are able to offer clients a chance to improve their firm:whether or not the client wants to hear it.
Consultants need to apply (again) the principles of careful listening. These employees are the primary stakeholders and will have to deal with the change after you leave–for better or for worse. It’s not as if employees don’t want change. They probably see the problems as well as you do. The issue arrives when consultants don’t bother to listen to those employees who are willing and eager to make a change within their company. However, unless you actually engage the employees, that will never happen.
While you won’t single-handedly change the consulting stereotype everywhere, integrating these qualities into your everyday life will help prevent others from placing this stereotype upon you.