20 April 2006

Why my opinion doesn't matter ...

In an earlier post I said that my opinion doesn't matter. The philosophy comes from Coopers & Lybrand's Process Consulting course - one of the best consultancy training courses I have ever experienced. The course itself was drawn from a number of sources including Edgar Schein's 'Process Consultation'.

There is always a tension for a consultant - whether to intervene directly with an answer or get the client or the client's team to develop a solution on their own, facilitated and supported by the consultant, very often through a formal problem solving process. At root this resolves to the age old question: which is better, give a man a fish or teach him how to fish? Process Consulting fell down squarely on the side of teaching him how to fish. I wasn't alone in my admiration for this course, it consistently got excellent feedback scores and the waiting list to go on it was impressive.

The key difference between process consulting and other interventions is in the mindset of the consultant rather than in the behaviour of the client. In process consulting, the consultant believes that that the client owns the problem throughout the consulting process. In an expert model, the consultant takes the problem away and delivers a solution back to the client - that expert model of behaviour is drummed into us from an early age - we want to help. When a client asks for help it is natural to say, "I'll take care of the problem for you". In process consulting the response is more akin to "It's your problem, but I'll work on it with you to help you solve it".

There is no doubt in my mind that process consulting provides enormous value to clients, at the expense of a delay as they assemble their team, collect data, analyse what they have discovered and consider their options. If the client wants a speedy response then an expert intervention will almost certainly be quicker, but does the client need the response as quickly as they say they do - is the rest of the organisation positioned to take advantage of the expert opinion if it is delivered today? Process consulting can help to ensure that everything is in place for a successful implementation of the solution and that is ultimately what encouraged clients to keep on coming back again and again.

Process consulting is powerful, but it requires good discipline to use it consistently.

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