Friday, June 23, 2006

The Tale of Two Consultants

I think that consulting is continuously evolving. In fact, much of what consulting is, can be determined by the word that precedes it. Whether that is employment consulting, technology consulting, educational consulting or personal consulting. Much of what happens is subservient to the environment in which it occurs.

Although there are now more detailed descriptions of the process of consulting, the meaning and the results are still embedded in the structure or scaffolding of the consultation itself.

In order to explore this a bit, I have posted two interviews with two different types of consultants, and have attempted to show how the consultants themselves, describe their work in terms of the environment that they work in.

I think that this is important to the individual who is contemplating adding consultancy to their repertoire of work skills…whether you are a coordinator, a teacher, or an employee or teacher. It is likely that learning more about consulting, goes a long way in improving our skills as professionals whatever the field. Furthermore, today’s flexibility in consulting allows anyone to learn to be a consultant in their preferred setting.

In terms of my own consulting vision, I even see combinations of consultant areas being blended together to consult in fields that don’t traditionally lend themselves to such elements. I also see more and more folks becoming collaborative consultants or even co-consultants, or consultant teams.

So here are two interviews from folks who are consultants in somewhat different fields. One is an employment consultant, and the other for lack of a better word is a community of practice (education) consultant. In their own words I think that the listener will find many similarities in what they do but also find that what they do is tremendously influenced by the environment in which they practice.


In the first interview, I spoke with Bill Fenson. Bill heads up his own consulting firm, The Skills Emporium, LLC and has been a leader in improving employee performance through individual career alignment for over twelve years. Bill currently serves as Business Career Services department at University of Texas at Arlington . He has more than 14 years of experience in counseling and assisting corporate employees in transition.

Bill has also authored numerous papers and a book, Implementing and Managing Telework, A Guide for Those Who Make It Happen . He is an oft-requested speaker at business related conventions and is active in a variety of civic groups. He is the former President of the National Employment Counseling Association .

I interviewed Bill in my “extension office”…America’s Best Coffee Shop in Arlington, Texas, where I often plug in my laptop and communicate with colleagues and clients all over the world. Because I work mostly on-line from home, it is a real treat to go out and even greater to visit one on one with an old friend like Bill. Click the arrow below to listen to our interview.

Consultant Interview with Bill Fenson

(This interview with recorded with a Radio Shack microphone and Radio Shack Vox digital recorder. I apologize for the amount of background noise. The interview occurred while a band was setting up for a live performance later that night. I digitally edited and remastered the tape (using Audacity 1.3 beta open source software) getting rid of as much of the background noise as I thought I could. It may not be the most professional job, but I am still learning about live interviews)


I also interviewed Vance Stevens ; Vance is a Lecturer in Computing at Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, "On the Internet" editor of the TESL-EJ (Electric Online Journal) , on the Editorial Board of Computer Assisted Language Learning An International Journal (CALL-Journal), Vice-President II, Executive Committee for November 2004 - October 2006 of APACALL (Asia-Pacific Association for CALL), EVOnline Liaison to the Distance Education Sub-committee of TESOL's Professional Development Committee, and Advisor to the PDC for 2005-2006. and semi-official leader of the Webheads In Action , an international consortium of professionals interested in education, technology and the internet. Vance takes a more collaborative approach in his consulting. He calls himself a coordinator and facilitator instead of consultant. However, I find that much of what he does, falls within the expanded meaning of consulting. Vance is a prolific writer and international speaker and a specialist in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) . He also conducts scuba diving classes , and is an avid spelunker .

Vance’s interview can be heard by clicking the arrow below.

Consultant Interview with Vance Stevens

MP3 File

Vance and I tried to communicate via Skype (VOIP) but had trouble establishing a trustworthy connection. We also tried the new Yahoo Messenger with Voice Beta (which has built in recording ability as well as Video play), but again, could not seem to get in sync with one another. Keep in mind that Vance was in Abu Dhabi, UAE and I was in Grand Prairie, Texas, USA. Eventually, I sent Vance the questions I wanted him to answer via collaborative capable Writely . However, Vance choice to podcast his answers, instead, using Audacity and Podomatic . Once the podcast were on the net, I copied them to my PC, used Audacity to add my voice asking the questions and the uploaded them to my account at Audioblog (now Hipcast) . From Audioblog, I transferred them to my “RebuildingIndianola” blog and from there to this document using “Writely” where I am posting all my coursework. This sound quality of this interview is far superior to the first but keep in mind that both Vance and I were using Logi-tech USB headsets to record our voices and were in quite place with no background noise.

Personal reflections on Module 3


I thought that this module was probably the core of the course. The materials were very precise about how to go about thinking through a project and how to sell it to a client.

The chapter on Designing Solutions contained several thoughts about different ways to get to the same end point. But above all, it put everything in a perspective that a beginner could understand. I really enjoyed the section on creativity and appreciated the article on The Role of Ideas In Consulting. The author re-iterates the idea about ownership of decisions being in the client's court and re-inforces the consultants role as aide, coach or advisor. This is extremely important in the consulting relationship for without it, there is little commitment to change or acceptance. The chapter fits in very well with the previous parts regarding knowing the client well before you start. I think part of my frustration with the final project is that I do not feel like I know why UTB wants to change the web page or anything about the culture and environment that the web page exist in. I suspect that if I had taken a longer version of the class, I would have been given an opportunity to expand that project to one of my choice, in which I could have gotten to know the client better, and could have had an opportunity to explore with them what their needs and expectations were. A single shot project like this amounts to little more than words on paper. I think this module illustrates that "words on paper" are really just the final step in the consultative process, and that interactivity is the key to a good consultation. I also enjoyed the section where the author relates consultation to various approaches that are tried and true. He named Engineering and Structured Programming as two approaches that warrant consideration. He also suggested using review from journals and the internet as a source material for helping us think about creative approaches to projects. I thought this was wonderful advise both from the perspective that it allows one who is not quite so sure of themselves to become a little more knowledgeable, and for the more experience to have a bit of a re-inforcement system. By reading ways that others have used similar approaches, we may stimulate new thoughts about our own approaches and it even allows for greater client involvement (if client throws something at you that you dont know can say "let me get back to you on that as soon as I have given it a bit of consideration")

The next chapter on collaboration, also appealed to me. I use collaborative efforts whenever I can in any project I am involved in. If I go it alone, then the only result in the end is mine alone. Not only that, but I am thoroughly convinced that the more involvement the better the end product will be. Collaboration lends itself to support and acceptance. Being able to express your thoughts is just a way of opening a door on collaboration. Earlier I talked about AI as a great method for getting information from clients. In Appreciative Inquiry, virtually everyone is a stakeholder. And every stakeholder is given a voice in how an end product is being designed. Because of its attention to positive work, the end result is a much stronger project with every employee feeling the benefit. I am not sure that AI is a viable solution for every consultation project, but it certainly can be a useful tool to guide you in seeking information to help make presentation decisions. I liked the suggestions of preparing a presentation that involved all options even though you know that only one will finally be approved, and I also liked the idea that a good consultant is always ready to accept the clients decision and to revise his approach accordingly.

This section, was worth the time spent on the course. It was very illustrative and meaningful to me personally.

In regards to the discussion question, I though it had a number of great ideas. Many of them were things that I already strive to do and have been successful for me in the past. Some of them I have used so much that they are just parts of my personality. I have an unusual, I think, niche that I try to work in...retirement. For example, I usually speak to groups in my full retirement regalia....a flowery Hawaiin shirt and nice khaki pants. I let people know about my "retirement" uniform, and frankly, it is amazing how many people remember me by my dress. I also wear my gray hair in a fairly modern style that not too many people my age use. It gets people's attention and I often use a small icon of me with my glasses and spiked hair as an icon on list servs or on my business cards. I have had people I have never met come up to me at live meetings and say, "You must be Elderbob. I recongnize you from your letterhead." I love it when people say, "we have never met, but I know who you are." Most of that comes from my practice of being involved in my niche communities and serving whenever I can. I have a real advantage to others in that my income is secure (retirement) and I can often devote Pro Bono time where others may not have that luxury. I am currently learning how to internet broadcast and will soon be doing a bi-monthly broadcast where I interview significant people from my niche industry. One of the things I have learned about broadcasting, is that people remember your voice. My Texas drawl, has become a bit like a calling card. I capitalize on it whenever I can by using colorful colloquillisms in reference to projects. I have not always talked that way, but have found that if I sound like I am from Texas, people will remember me above others. I am not sure it gets me any more business, but if recognition is part of the game then I am getting that. I also like the idea of the book writing, though for me, I am planning on a series of CDs based on my internet broadcast, "The Best of Elderbob...a Guide to Retirement in the 21st Century". I often suggest to other coaches and consultants to stop fretting about a book and get a blog instead. A blog comes close to being a first draft of any book you may decide to do, except that it is immediate and there is potential for immediate feedback (before you go to print). It's then a short hop from best of blog posting to chapters in a real book. Lots of great ideas in this short article.

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