With deference to Dr. Covey and his very popular Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (all habits that will make us better consultants!), here are eight skills that all of us as consultants can work on to improve. This article will start with three overarching skills, then describe five more specific skills to consider in your ongoing development.
One way to look at your total skill set as a consultant (internal or external), is to consider your relative strengths in the three major portions of our work: designing “it”, delivering “it”, and selling “it”. These three skills represent the complete package for a consultant, regardless of what your expertise (your “it”) is.
• Number of modules
• Your Experience
People don’t buy features they buy benefits. All of us know this at some level, but seldom focus on turning the important features of our offerings into true benefits. To assume that your client/customer will figure out the benefit, is to lower your chance of selling your potential product or idea.
Some Specific Skills to Consider:
This is another skill that requires a book to discuss well and which requires planning and practice to improve. Getting clear agreements with clients up front about what the work is, what the desired outcomes are, and what your role is, is what contracting is all about.
Building relationships are important in all three of the major skill areas. In designing, you need to build relationships in order to gain the organizational information you need to design effectively. In delivering you need to be able to have good relationships with those involved, to lead to a more successful outcome. In selling, it’s important to remember that selling is a relationship process. People buy other people and believe in their ability to deliver.
Having a focus on relationships is more than building rapport, which can happen quite rapidly. Building relationships is long term focused and requires considerable commitment.
Building relationships with individuals is important, but recognize that if your focus is on only one person in an organization, when they are gone (get promoted, get a new job, are downsized out, or whatever) you have lost your leverage to help the organization. So, remember to build a network of relationships within your client organizations.
Separating Process from Content
It is so important to maintain perspective while in the client organization. Clients will focus on the content (of a meeting, the product, the outputs from your study, or whatever), but if the process matters aren’t attended to, outcomes can be compromised.
Working on your ability to step back and recognize what is happening at the group dynamics and interpersonal level will improve your success. Clients don’t always know that they need this, but they will almost always recognize that you “did something” to make things go better when you can point to, and improve the process, while sharing the content of your work. This skill is often the key to additional work or referrals.
Socrates is immortalized at least in part for his teaching approach of asking a line of questions that leads the student to discover answers for themselves.
When you clients discover answers to their problems, rather than simply hear them from you, they will own the answers. Their ability to hold onto the concepts, apply them, and improve their situation will skyrocket. Improving your ability to help them discover (through the use of Socratic questioning), is a critical, though often overlooked skill.
Using more questions will cause you to lose the feeling of power that you are providing the “right” answer. But the client gains far more than you lose. While you may feel like you are losing emotionally, you win with the client, and probably strengthen your relationship with them too.
Most of us need to improve our ability to say this. Of course we can physically say it, (OK, just for practice, say it three times right now - out loud!) but we all know we don’t always say it when we wish we had!
Improving your judgment on when to use this word will help you in three important ways, time management, happiness level, and client success.
Many of your time management problems stem from trying to do too much. When people (clients, peers, anyone) ask you to do something that you don’t feel you are best suited for, or don’t really want to do, use your word!
When we focus our energy on the things we really want to or need to be doing (rather than just the things people ask us to do or we feel we should do), we will be happier! Say it to help you preserve and honor your priorities.
There are times that a client may ask you for something (“We just need this [you fill in the blank]”) that you know, or strongly believe is the wrong thing. These are the times to step back and be genuine. Help them understand your perspective, and focus them on the outcome, not the suggested solution. In these cases, you might not be saying “no”, exactly, but it is what you really mean!
Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. To receive a free Special Report on leadership go to http://www.kevineikenberry.com/leadership.asp.
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