Consultants are periodically faced with whether to agree to do exactly what a client wants versus proposing what a client truly needs.
The dilemma is clear: If a consultant pushes back on the client’s request or suggests something different, the engagement opportunity might be lost. On the other hand, if the consultant believes the client’s request is unwise, unsafe, risky, illegal, or unethical and agrees anyway, the consultant will be complicit in a bad decision, an unsuccessful outcome, and the consequences.
Most situations that reflect this dilemma don’t reach the unsafe, unethical, or illegal range. Still, they often present pitting a client’s request—which may not be in their own best interest due to lack of expertise–against the expert consultant’s recommendation.
While there is a chance that executing the client’s wishes will ultimately achieve a good outcome, more likely, it won’t.
As far as assessing and accepting blame, the consultant can always hide behind, “Well, I just did what you asked.” While this logic might appear to be a safe position, if a failure results, no one wins. Both the client’s business and the consultant’s reputation are damaged.
Thus, the dilemma: does the consultant sublimate their expert judgment and execute to the client’s wishes if they are unsound, insist on a different course of action, or simply walk away?
The Root Cause
To borrow a famous line of movie dialogue, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” When this situation arises, the client and the consultant are not aligned. These two parties are dealing with differences in knowledge, interpretation, assessment of consequences, or different agendas.
So, let’s get on the same page.
The Best Approach (Even in an Emergency)
Experienced, expert business consultants should suggest an assessment before recommending a course of action and accepting an assignment. General consultants will have general assessments; specialty consultants should have specialty assessments. They may subsequently have several from which to choose, depending on the preliminary discovery.
The assessment serves to educate the consultant and the client such that both parties are closer to a shared assessment of the problem and the landscape. In other words, you are after conceptual agreement.
Creating an Effective Process Assessment
Step 1: Pre-screening Diagnostic
The first step is a phone or videoconference screening. A reputable consultant will advance to a “house call” if a preliminary call indicates it is within their specialty and the problem warrants intervention. If not, they will refer someone that has the appropriate expertise.
Step 2: Assessment and Expert Confirmation
In the next step of a business diagnosis, a tailored self-assessment, provided by the consultant, is performed by key employees associated with the area of concern. This creates a 360o, firsthand perspective of the symptoms. The consultant then validates those areas of concern with face-to-face, on-site, and personal interviews.
Step 3: Diagnosis and Treatment Plan
Consultants will interpret the assessment results and work with the client to develop an action plan that works for both parties. These plans will rely heavily on the expertise and experience the consultant offers.
Step 4: Proposal and Execution
The client concurs with the plan for improvement or remediation, and it’s launched.
A word of caution: consultants can only make recommendations based on the assumption that they have all the available information. A client’s willingness to communicate honestly and completely is essential.
How do I know if a recommended assessment process is valid?
Once you have decided that an assessment is essential, here are some questions that should help determine its quality:
- Is the assessment designed for this specific situation?
- If not, you may have the wrong specialist in your office.
- Is it multidimensional?
- An accurate assessment needs to include multiple parameters to narrow down a root cause and solution. For example, the figure below shows an eight-factor assessment for operations and infrastructure. Note that shortcomings are apparent, and remediation plans are more readily designed and executed.
- Has this approach been previously demonstrated as an effective course of action?
- Your consultant should have case studies on the direct positive outcomes of programs suggested by the assessment.
- Does the self-assessment elicit comments and observations of employees up and down in the organization–not just the executives?
- Is your consultant listening carefully and asking insightful, penetrating questions about the results?
- Does the consultant document the discussions and send you what they heard for your confirmation?
- Have you shared all relevant information to ensure the consultant is aware of any extenuating circumstances?
- Are the recommendations aligned with the validated assessment results?
From Assessment to Implementation with Aldrich Technology
Starting with a meaningful assessment for your business creates a pathway to successful implementation or remediation. It also reduces fear, bolsters employee engagement, aligns business objectives, and encourages collaboration. If you are interested in learning how Aldrich Technology can partner with your business, let’s talk.
Meet the Author
Vice President, Business Strategy
Aldrich Technology LLC
Peter Adams leads business strategy for Aldrich Technology. Prior to Aldrich, Peter founded and ran Lighthouse Information Systems, a West Coast technology consultancy focused on leading clients through technological and operational challenges in order to promote growth and facilitate successful systems. While running Lighthouse for more than 35 years, Peter served clients across countless industries,…
- ERP selection and implementation
- Operations and process analysis
- Technology as a strategic asset
- Business assessments