We all understand that consultants come in every shape, size and flavor. Consultants, to be effective, take the “lessons learned” from decades of experience and couple those experiences with strong investigative skills and tools to define a path forward that will result in the outcome that the client is anticipating. We consult on business processes, management approach, specialized applications and we even apply our ability to uncover need such that it results in consultative selling. Regardless of the client’s mission, the desired outcome, or the impetus for the consultation, there is one overriding truth (a singularity) that must always be maintained. Consultants, to be true to their calling, must always be the client’s advocate.
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I define an advocate as someone who supports and defends a particular group or cause. To be a client advocate, the consultant must be willing to forego any personal bias or preconceived notions to become a proponent and promoter of the client’s intellectual capital (and by intellectual capital we mean “everything that goes out the door at the end of the day”). Some synonyms for a good consultant might be Champion, Supporter, Campaigner or Crusader. To be effective, the consultant must be able to assume the role of a dedicated defender against anything that detracts from the client’s mission.
Client advocacy may seem contrary to those in a consultative selling role but without this singularity the consultant can never achieve the credibility that is crucial to a successful consultancy. Even in consultative selling, acting in the client’s best interest has to be the foundation of every action. Each consultant in a selling role must ask themselves “Are you first a consultant, or a salesman? ” If your answer is Salesman, this article isn’t for you. But, if you are promoting an effective solution, and if you truly believe in that solution, resolving the need for promoting the sale and the paramount need for acting in the client’s best interest can be complimentary. Just be aware that there will be times when your solution may not be in the client’s best interest, and in those cases you must suggest that the client take an alternative path. The credibility you gain by staying true to the role of an advocate may be of more value than that single sale.
Client Advocacy may seem easier for those consultants who are engaged purely to improve the client’s operation or processes. But it does have its pitfalls. Rarely is the consultant an expert in the client’s business. Each client has their own differentiators (that’s why they can compete), and their own corporate culture. To be a functioning advocate, these are the elements of the client’s business that the consultant must learn quickly or suffer the consequences. We’ve all heard the jokes about consulting… I especially like this one. A consultant is one who knows more and more about less and less, until he knows absolutely everything about nothing. This outcome is the result of a consultant attempting a solution based solely on data and documentation. To be an advocate, the consultant must assume an integrated role in the client’s culture and buy into their corporate vision. This can be accomplished in short order if the consultant understands the definition of SONDER.
The Urban Dictionary defines the word Sonder as a noun. It describes the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. What that means to the consultant, is that there is no such thing as IBM, or Ford Motor Company, or any other firm you care to mention. Those company names are really just terms to address the collective Sonder of each person employed in the mutual success of that company. The client is not a company, but rather a collection of individuals working toward a common goal; we call them stakeholders. The effective consultant understands this and insists on interviewing the stakeholders.
The goal for these interviews is to gain insight into the drivers for each stakeholder to refine the consultants understanding of the VISION and the role for each stakeholder, and to use that information when investigating the processes and procedures currently employed to achieve their objectives. The result is a strong picture of the AS IS situation and will establish the starting point for the consultants work to craft a path to the SHOULD BE position. Keeping the stakeholders Sonder in mind ensures that the consultation is based on true advocacy and that the outcome is in alignment with not only good management theory, but aligned with the individual needs of those who must implement your solution (and, consequently, rate your performance).
If I have been “preaching to the choir”, I apologize. But consultants, like every other professional, need to be reminded form time to time that there are fundamental truths that must be held above all others. That while consultants are trained and skilled in all the mechanics that result in improved efficiency and method, their most valuable contribution is when they tailor those practices such that the engagement is one of true client advocacy. This is the Consultant Singularity.