HYCS #46 – You Mean Everyone is My Client?

HYCS #46 – You Mean Everyone is My Client?

Being a consultant isn’t just a change in job title.  It’s a career change.  And it’s not just a career change:  You’ve joined a new tribe. Being a consultant is a worldview, a way of thinking, a lifestyle.

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Reading Time: 2.8 minutes – but there’s a cool diagram.

Assignment Time:  0 minutes

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Earlier this week I got surprised while working with a group of consultants who are establishing an internal consulting practice.  I love it when this happens.  Surprise is the antithesis of certainty, and such a delight.

While I was setting up a practice scenario between a consultant and an account manager, I referred to the account manager as “the client.”  This created considerable confusion amongst the consultants, who asked “Do you mean the client or the account manager?”

For a consultant, the answer is yes.  Once you join the consultant tribe, you don’t look at situations the way others do.   The Account Manager is your client, the CEO is your client, and your boss is your client.   It doesn’t matter where you are on the organization chart.

Consulting to the COO

When I was a brand new music therapist at Sonoma State Hospital, I hurt my back and ended up in the office of the COO, filing his papers.  The entire hospital had just been trained in a new charting system.  When the COO asked me whether I thought he should turn over training for the charting system to the 9 programs or keep it centralized, I said “It depends.  Do you want 9 different approaches to charting or 1?”  He nodded thoughtfully and turned back to his desk.  I was 25 and this was my first job out of college.  I have always been a consultant. 

Like me, you may have started out as a consultant, and had to endure many other titles before finding the one that fit doing what came naturally.  Or maybe you gathered knowledge and skills throughout your career that added up to being a consultant.  It doesn’t matter what path you take.  Once you join the consulting tribe, you’ll know you’re home.

The Consulting Difference

Here’s a diagram that compares roles that border consulting.  It’s adapted from a model for independent professionals that Robert Middleton created.

roles final

What it Means to You

The other 3 roles on this chart use a different mix of knowledge and implementation-savvy to be effective in their roles.  It’s not a failing; it’s a requirement for being successful in that role.

If a salesperson got buried in implementation concerns or buried their customers with options, they’d be a lousy salesperson.  Teachers are famous for enlivening us with theories that may not work well in the real world, and that’s how knowledge is advanced.  If you can’t dream outside of what currently exists, you can’t make huge, transformative leaps, or reflect on how an entire system needs to change.

Project Managers are most effective when they are like a dog with a bone:  Don’t introduce new information or changes now; we’ve go to stay on track.  A good PM could organize the second coming without breaking a sweat.  Where would we be without these 3 roles?

Which bring us to the consultant role.  Alone among these 4 roles, the consultant is equally aware of the benefits and dangers of both knowledge-based approaches and an implementation focus.  It can be uncomfortable to sit in that tension.

A consultant holds these polarities with their client long enough to determine the best way forward.  This is what rewires your brain and turns everyone into a client.

It’s not always easy to expand your thinking to encompass the whole and end the meeting on time.  That’s why the consultant role requires clear-thinking and unflinching honesty, as well as kindness and compassion.

But, Don’t you Perform These Other Roles?

I do.  And I bet you do too.  But there is a difference about how I perform them.  When I teach, I do all I can to erase the difference between the classroom and on-the-job performance.  I make the conceptual practical.  When I sell, I make sure I’m selling something that is an exact fit for what my client wants to accomplish.  This means I may be “selling” a recommendation that we wait, or that they engage someone else for what they need.  When I am managing a project, my first consideration is managing myself out of a job, because I will eventually be moving on, and the organization has to find a way to get the necessary tasks done.

I visit the other 3 roles only in service to the vision my client and I craft from that consulting box.

Assignment:  Maybe my diagram doesn’t quite fit for you.  If it doesn’t, doodle your own and send me a copy.