Friday, June 16, 2006

Personal reflections on Module 1:

In this module, we get an good introduction to the step by step formula that the book follows for consulting. The author calls it a framework and breaks it down into steps in each chapter, and then subdivides that into materials related to each step. The two chapters involved here have to do with identifying the client and their needs, and how the consultant lets the client know the limitations and guarantees of the relationship.

I thought the first chapter was very good. I like the idea of clarifying what the client is looking for. Far too often consultants assume they have all the answers and come on like gangbusters, as if they can solve everyone's problems. The truth is, that they can't and the sooner that is dealt with the better. This is an opportunity to get to know the client and his environment and how he perceives both his problem and his expected solution. It is a critical time of honesty on both the consultant and the client's part. In fact, I think the consultant should spend most of his time just asking good open-ended probing questions about what it is that the client is expecting. It will allow the consultant to determine whether or not he can actually be of use here, and it also gives the consultant an opportunity to decide whether or not he feels capable and comfortable in dealing with this particular client or environment. It is also a good time for the consultant to admit that he has no skills, background, traits or what have you in the areas where the client is seeking help. It's really hard to admit that you don't have the expertise but if you know you don't, then this is the ideal time to admit it. It does not necessarily mean that you will not get the contract, it just means that al the cards are out on the table. It allows the consultant some wiggling room in bringing in additional consultants, learning more, or perhaps even referring the client to a consultant with more background in that particular areas (a good solid referral is often as good as a satisfied contract in getting the word out to potential clients....client will remember your honesty and willingness to share). Other texts and articles have read often refer to this stage as pre-qualifying the client...making sure that there is a good fit between the client and consultant.

This step is also a time to clarify some of the issues. It helps to make sure that you both are on a level playing field. It should keep disagreements from cropping up later.

The next step, has to do with further clarification of the relationship between what the client expects and what the consultant expects. Having this conversation early in process, keeps a lot of the emotionality out of the project. Once again, I consider this a sort of "pre-qualifying" the client. It allows the consultant time to determine if he feels that he can do a great job with this client and this problem. If the consultant does not see a "great" end product, then it might behoove him to pass this one by, and move on to one that has greater potential. It also give him a bit of time to explore who the other players are, and in many cases, a chance to do a bit of background checking before actually saying "yes" to an offer of consulting". For the client, it is likely that the background check has already occured before you get to this point. If not, then all this is just a friendly response to your dynamic elevator speech. This step allows the client to think about how well the potential consultant can work with his team and in his environment. Usually pull-outs from either party can happen in this stage without anyone having to spend much money or time. "Negotiating the Relationship" is actually a great term to describe how much detail has to go into this step. It also represents the kind of give and take that is necessary to make this unique partnership excell. Negotiation in itself, implies that there is a willingness to not only stand one's ground, but also to give in a bit when necessary. These are obviously steps to a win-win agreement.

The two additional reading, have to do with self-awareness and knowledge of one's skills set, and about using that first meeting as leverage into a more lasting rrlationship. Both were very thoughtful articles, and both were full of good advice to the reader.

The final skills translation exercies seemed to have more to do with semantics than skill. I am sure that it is necessary to make sure that the cllient and the consultant are understanding the skills and traites needed for the job, but I felt that the intent was slightly misleading. Business speak, is just a part of the business climate, just like consultant speak is part of that environment. Neither are bad or good...just different. Maybe that why this exercise was included.

This module was a good start.

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.

Business on a blog

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Originally uploaded by elderbob.

I am sitting in my mobile office this morning...America's Best Coffee Shop. Hubert, the owner, knows that I consider this to be my branch office, with my primary office, my PC at home. I often come here, with my laptop, my USB headset and my cellular phone, and connect with other associates all over the world (if the time zones cooperate). So I am contemplating just how much business you can conduct via a blog this morning. While I was thinking about it, I noticed that my Skype (VOIP) version was not the latest (a newer version was issued this week). So I updated it. Then while I am thinking about the new capabilities in that version, I looked to make sure that it was still compatible with my Jyve application (Jyve is a Skype interactive device that allows for a lot of additional features within the Skype architecture). Fortunately it was up to date, but while I was checking on it, I came across JyvePro. JyvePro appears to me, to be a good attempt to make what I hope to do with consulting even more accessible from my blog. It allows the blog reader or listener, to IM me, e-mail me, leave a message, talk to me if my Skype is active or leave a message on my home phone if I am not active. It also allows me to adverstise my services (maybe my elevator speech or my business tagline). It also allows me to advertise what I actually do and gives me a space where I can put my price. It's still in the beta version and may have some bugs, but it is thinking in the right direction. As this class continues, you will see add this device to my "Links" column. I'll keep you posted regarding how much success I have with it.

In the meantime, for those of you fathers out there...In the States, Father's day falls on this weekend. Fortunately for me, all of my children and some of my Grandkids and some of my Great Grandkids will be around to visit. I'm looking forward to being "King" for the weekend.

Next week, I'll tackle adding an RSS feed to both the blog and the blog audios (both the audio post and the podcast when I have them). I'll also try to connect these back to consulting to show another tool that is available on the net.

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