Friday, June 16, 2006

A mix of confusing terms - Access to Module 0

What a mix of confusing terms. This thing called Information Technology Consultant seems a bit hard to pin down. It seems that as soon as I get my head around the meaning, the meaning changes because the technology and/or the terminology changes. Right now, I am sitting here, having done a “Bloglines” search, a peek at “Technorati”, a scan of “” and a review of terms in “Wikipedia”, and after I delete all the advertisements or brochures for companies that “do” consulting, there are several terms that seem to swirl to the top….Role Model, Personal Coach, Facilitator, Mentor, Adviser…all of these seem to be taking a stab at consultancy, but none fully encompass the “consulting”.

It’s fairly obvious that many of these elements mix together in various ways to form a core of consulting, so perhaps we should look instead at how they differ to help sort them out.

Being a good role model certainly influences the outcome of a consultancy. Finding distinctive roles for both the consultant and the target audience is probably a goal for consulting. Making it clear what is expected of each other and then showing how that looks by actually demonstrating said behaviors, most likely produces a very positive end result. In fact, the consult, by demonstrating what consultants do, probably even creates a set of behaviors in the target audience that allows them to exercise more consultative skills. Does this mean that consulting then diminishes its value by demonstrating what it is to others? Not likely. The client, even when modeling well, is not likely to perfectly model what the consultant is capable of. In fact, it may well be that this interaction drives the consultant to become more and more proficient and the client to become more and more consultative. Consultants will not likely be replaced by their clients because true consultants are always at least one step ahead.

Certainly a good consultant often acts as a personal coach. No, not a sports-type coach (though much of personal coaching is rooted in that model), but someone who uses inquiry, reflection, requests and discussion to help clients identify personal and/or business goals, develop strategies, relationships and action plans intended to achieve those goals. Personal accountability is desired by the personal coach, and great insight and even intuition are skills often employed to find out what the client really wants.

The coach acts as a guide, a personal cheer-leader of sorts, a mirror of a client’s progress and one who ask for more than the client realizes they could achieve. Again, all of these are highly desirous in a consulting relationship. However, a personal coach holds the client responsible for their own achievements, while a consultant is expected to motivate clients to ensure specific outcomes agreed upon in advance, and not always outcomes that the client desires, but often outcomes that the person or corporate entity who hired the consultant expects. Personal coaches champion the individual quest. Consultants often have to look at a much larger picture, especially when there are corporate entities involved. Though the coach seeks achievement for the individual, it seems that oft times the consultant, by the very contract he enters to do his job, is seeking to achieve some corporate goal. Personal coaches go out of their way to assure clients that they are not counselors, therapists or that they are consulting. Coaching to me, may be a sub skill of an excellent consultant.

Similarly, a talented facilitator may perform a subset of skills often needed/used in consultant relationships, but these skills do not adequately describe consulting. A facilitator helps a group or even an individual to understand their common objectives and plan to achieve them without personally taking any side of the argument. The facilitator will try to assist the group in achieving a consensus on any disagreements that preexist or emerge in the consultant meeting so create a strong basis for future action. The facilitator can assist in the development of the end product but they are not the producers. However, simply building consensus so that a specific set of goals can be met, is not the total set of consulting.

Mentors often are referred to as having consulting skills. In fact, it may be that consulting in many cases, is a subset of skills of the excellent mentor. The consultant process may often generate an atmosphere in which mentor relationships can be established. But most consultants would discourage actually mentoring a client while working for an entity preferring instead to let mentoring to become a more long term element outside of the consulting relationship.

Finally, advisers, in general, are professionals who render suggestions in the consulting services. The advisor is usually knowledgeable about the background of the constituent’s goals and can and does make suggestions about how to deal with problems. He almost expects the client to follow his suggestions with out question. I believe the good consultant would expect the client to be highly critical about what is best for the individual or corporate entity.

It seems to me that even Anglin’s model (which appears to built on the ADDIE model of design) is accommodating to all of these skill sets, though on their own individually, they don’t seem to add up to genuine consulting. In that sense, they appear to simply be learned behaviors that can be added together in a complex mixture to satisfy a client’s consulting needs. All are useful, but on their own none of them are absolutely essential. Maybe that is the biggest surprise of all about consulting. It is not as specific as one might first think, and is a pretty flexible form. The consultant can substitute other behaviors when one of these is lesser or even absent.

So, I am not any surer than when I started out, about what exactly a consultant is. On the other hand, I am a bit clearer now on how some specific professions separate themselves on the whole from pure consulting.

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