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Providing value beyond hard skills

Submitted by karol.s on
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Having being involved in several implementations aimed at creating more efficient processes, recovering productivity, and increasing marginality, I realised that changing a company’s way of working requires an intense interaction with all people involved, in order to avoid any resistance and allow them to familiarise with the new way of doing things. This is part of what is commonly known as change management. When facilitating a transition, a focus on genuine and authentic human connections matters far more than being a point of reference based on personal abilities, process-related knowledge and problem-solving skills.

In my view, an effective consultant should take time to listen closely and draw out a client’s wisdom through open-ended questions, which also stimulates critical thinking.[1] (Schein). Asking with humility and genuine curiosity builds rapport quickly. People want to feel heard and respected for their own knowledge.

From time to time I missed new clients’ frustrations early on in the process. Why? Because I had found where the problems were, and I was excited to providing the solutions to solve them. But I neglected to put myself in my client’s shoes. Since then, I learned to leave aside my “solution-centred approach”, and handled my assignments with authentic empathy instead.

Of course, this does not replace the importance  of consistently delivering high-quality work, while sustaining high levels of engagement and collaboration over time and not simply focusing on the initial deliverable [2](Block).

Speaking about the early stages of a consulting process, I also learned that gaining success by using low-hanging fruits (a typical recommendation for change consultants) may help to motivate the recipient of the change, but it can also put in danger the trust between clients and consultants because it most likely won’t be enough in the long term.

You earn genuine trust through dependable performance over time and by proving your value across multiple scenarios. One brilliant analysis won’t cut it. Showing you can be relied on repeatedly inspires a significantly higher level of confidence.

For example, I make a point of regularly checking inbetween formal meetings through informal coffee chats or quick phone calls. These invaluable touchpoints provide opportunities for candid feedback on what’s working well and what may need to be adjusted. By nurturing the relationship and encouraging open communication, it is more probable to catch potential issues earlier, before they escalate into major problems.

However, this approach seems to be particularly effective in the beginning of the consulting process. It is worth asking why that is the case? Every client organisation has its own distinct internal culture, rhythms, and norms. [3]. Thoughtfully adapting my approach to align with how each unique client operates, I have been able to demonstrate my commitment to their specific situation and priorities, and matching requirements (hard aspects) with expectations and even personal, soft aspects.

For example, I am currently working with a B2B company undergoing a quite disruptive automation with RPA (Robotic Process Automation). I thoroughly researched their organisational development, communication channels, and decision-making dynamics. In addition to gaining useful information for the projects, this showed my genuine respect and interest in the organisation, and set the foundation for a trust-based partnership.

Navigating through the strong personalities of influential stakeholders requires a tactical approach and high levels of emotional intelligence. While bold leaders need to drive challenging visions, they may lack knowledge about any resource limitations. I have learned to align ambitions with reality through candid yet tactful dialogue.

In addition, I have realised that decision-makers’ strong ego can be a potential obstacle for consultants but, at the same time, a great opportunity.

While a strong ego requires delicate but firm managing, passionate executives push for excellence, which can be harnessed through transparency. I balance realistic expectations upfront with encouraging goals, as soon as proper project foundations are in place. Influential stakeholders need forthright advice, even if complex messages are hard to hear. I try to objectively outline the optimal path forward, not just tell people what they want to hear.

I learned this lesson after a case when establishing vague objectives caused a disconnect between executives’ vision and team priorities. I invest significant time upfront, meticulously mapping goals, key results, budgets, and contingencies before kicking off a new engagement and I use the OKRs approach – Objectives Key Results.[4]

Of course, situations can evolve, so expectations need to be continuously realigned. As a result, it is important to pause regularly and objectively assess what works well and what may need to be corrected to keep a complex project on track. Adapting plans based on transparent, data-driven progress reviews maintains high levels of trust and engagement.

When demonstrating value delivered, metrics are what gets the executives’ attention. However, narratives about the human impact stories can provide more profound meaning.

For that reason, I find it useful to balance quantitative data with qualitative ones like, for example testimonials from employees who were involved in the change process. Personal narratives create value that would not be achievable through purely numeric indicators and strike an emotional chord that indirectly encourages good relationships.

By enabling long-term knowledge transfers and empowering internal stakeholders, I enable the creation of positive outcomes beyond the duration of my engagement. I focus intently on embedding skills within the client’s organisation through training, coaching, reference documentation, and even mentoring towards the end of the project.

For the same reasons why people see doctors for preventative check-ups, I conduct regular health assessments to catch early warning signs of potential issues. This prevention-oriented mindset keeps projects thriving over the long haul.

Hitting key deliverables and targets builds momentum and reinforces the idea that 1. we are on the right path and 2. hard goals are not disconnected from people (OKRs) and can ultimately remind stakeholders of the accumulating value.

The COVID-19 pandemic as well as the spreading of automation and AI has generated – and will continuo to do so - higher levels of emotional engagement about the workplace and one’s job, making transformations even more challenging. The uncertainty related to an unsafe and unpredictable future due to technology disruptions requires that consultants develop a different mindset and hone thier soft skills. Based on recent research on trust in a virtual environment, the approach described above must take into consideration emotional connections and show benevolence.[5]

In summary,  human connections drive consulting success now more than ever. Without genuine trust and understanding, even the most extensive expertise and skill sets may not be enough. Research shows that trust emerges through the combination of rational assessment of ability/integrity and emotional bonds/rapport (cognitive vs. emotional trust). In other words, behavioural trust is what makes consultant actions be perceived as benevolent and competent.[6] Our most successful work happens when we empower people and organisations, so that they can grow sustainably; and that is why I focus on delivering authentic, lasting value.


Luca Collina, international transformational consultant with a background in management consulting, project and change management.



[1]  Humble Consulting: How to Provide Real Help Faster- Schein; 

[2]  High-Impact Consulting: How Clients and Consultants Can Work Together to Achieve Extraordinary Results - Robert H. Schaffer

[3]   Advanced Consulting Earning trust at the highest level - Bill Pasmore

[4] 𝐎𝐊𝐑𝐬 𝐯𝐬 𝐊𝐏𝐢𝐬 𝐈𝐧 𝐑𝐏𝐀 𝐈𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧

[5] “What are the implications of virtualisation for building trust during the management consultancy lifecycle? “ Luca Collina -Management Consulting Journal-vol.7 June 2021-pag.18

[6] ibid