When carrying out an assignment, consultants may only be with a client for a limited period of time, be it a number of days per week or a fixed number of weeks.
In that time, they are there because they have a set of skills, experience and knowledge that the client either does not possess or, due to a number of internal issues, may not be able to embed into their organisation using internal resources.
Although many of us use the term ‘management consultant’, the task of managing people is a difficult one. John C Maxwell said in his book Developing the Leader Within You that “People don’t want to be managed, they want to be led”.
This is where we as consultants become leaders in that particular area for the duration of that assignment, and possibly afterwards as a point of reference for the ideas and systems proposed and put into place.
So how do we demonstrate high standards and authenticity?
As consultants, do we have standards? Are we accountable to perform to certain standards? This could be financial, legal or regulatory standards within the sector or field of work of our clients, and there are always our own personal standards to be considered as well.
It has been seen in business but also in politics and the world of sport, where an off-the-cuff remark - made when someone thinks the cameras are not recording, or a comment on a social media platform - can cause huge issues, loss of credibility, loss of sponsorship deals or loss of clients; and the same holds true for every one of us. True, it is unlikely to hit the headlines in the national news if ABC Consulting loses a client, but the effect on the consultant, the business and its reputation can be life-changing.
How do we ensure that this never happens to us?
Holding ourselves to account
We therefore need to be genuine in our business beliefs or we will be seen as people who say what we think our clients want to hear but do not necessarily believe or carry out that belief.
Do we also lead in every aspect of our business and life in general? Do we operate in the way we portray ourselves? Do we truly believe this and, even more importantly, where is the evidence to demonstrate it? This evidence is not just fine words on a web site but should be supported with independent evidence. This evidence may be via an accreditation, a qualification or a third-party testimonial, for example.
Never be afraid to be challenged by a client. Challenges often come due to a client’s fear of change or a need to resolve a conflict in their own knowledge, in order to move from where they are to the new ‘scary’ place you are taking them.
Holding our client to account
So, once we have our own stall set out, do we hold our clients to the same standards? Again, any disparity between what we say the correct standards are and what we expect of others will cause us issues.
How can we challenge the client on matters of time management if we are late to a meeting or equally fail to challenge the client who turns up late?
How can we discuss planning issues, if we have not prepared for the meeting or deliver on our own tasks when we said we would? Or equally not challenge the client who turns up without the required preparation that was agreed?
This leads to a lack of confidence in the consultant and generates comments from clients about the consultant lacking authenticity or credibility.
The minute people lose faith in any aspect of a consultant’s performance, then that consultant is history. Nothing that they might say in the future or have said in the past, regardless of how good it may be, will have any credibility in the eyes or ears of the recipient.
In order to lead in the most effective way and to be accepted as authentic, a consultant MUST:
With all of these in place we have a consistent message that is supported by consistent actions that produce consistent results and demonstrate a series of high standards, commitment and authenticity in saying what you do and doing what you say.
Authenticity and consistency will produce buy-in from the client and then positive outcomes will follow on from there.
Andy Miles is a Court Assistant of the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants (WCoMC), CMCE’s parent organisation, and a Member of the WCoMC Membership Committee.