Everyone can be a consultant, even without the label

Paul is the Chief Financial Officer of a major company. His manager, the President, frequently asks him for advice about new business, people problems and customer issues.

Barbara is a Human Resources Specialist. Managers often call her to request help with issues such as a problem performer or team conflicts.

Dave is the General Manager of a business unit within a large corporation. Besides leading his own team, he must work with other general managers, across the world, to bring new products to market.

None of these people have the word "consultant" in their title, however, they are discovering that they are indeed consultants within their organizations. They are expected to apply their expertise and experience to organizational problems and come up with creative solutions.

There's a good chance that you are acting like a consultant in parts of your job, too. As we move from the industrial economy to the knowledge, or networked economy, it's the "soft stuff" that is becoming the hard stuff. Intellectual capital is what every company is scrambling to acquire and develop, and consulting skills are "soft" skills that are in big demand.

How are your consulting skills? Even the best consultants admit that mastery is illusive; they are always seeking new tools and approaches that will add value. One of the most important things a consultant does is to first figure out what the real problem is. Here are just a few ideas to get you started in building some skills in this area:

Most people come to their own conclusions about what they think the problem is, who or what caused it, and what should be done about it. Unfortunately, everyone has their own preconceived notions and they often don't jibe. New consultants make the mistake of accepting the client's solution as the only solution. Since that "client" is often a peer, boss, or senior manager who has called for your help, it's tempting to accept their solution without questioning it. Sometimes they're wrong.

It's your job to dig for the real cause of the problem before you can propose a solution. That's how you add value. For instance, our firm is often called by companies to conduct leadership training on a particular topic. Although we do quite a bit of facilitation and training, we've learned that training isn't always the best solution. Only by probing and questioning can we discover if their predetermined solution is going to get the results they desire.

To get at the real problem, ask questions such as:

·        What do you think the real problem is?  What have people done or said that leads you to this conclusion?

·        Do you think they are unwilling or unable to do what they are supposed to? Why?

·        What have you tried to do to solve it? What's worked? Why? What hasn't worked and why?

·        What are the risks and vulnerabilities if this isn't solved?

·         How will you know when the problem is solved?

Consultants sometimes make the mistake of identifying a problem and then jumping into a solution before they've asked the all-important question, "What outcomes are you looking for?" Once you know the outcome, you will be able to work backwards and come up with solutions that will get you there. For instance, a business owner asked me to resolve an internal conflict between two departments. When I asked him what outcomes he was looking for, he mentioned that these departments are key to his goal of doubling the size of the company within two years. Knowing that information enabled us to not only to solve the conflict, but to take a number of significant steps that enabled his company to reach their goal. Asking about outcomes will position you to add tremendous value, rather than simply fixing one part of a problem.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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