Written with: Mary Sully de Luque

Good is to deliver a notch above to exist in a consulting firm; great is to go way beyond.  Mastery means own and empower along the way and all the way.

CONSULTING FIRMS are in the business of renting out brains; the most valuable asset in a consultancy is human capital.  Consequently, consulting firms scour top business schools for the best problem-solving brains, purposefully making the selection process emotionally and intellectually intense.  Once aboard, everyone around the consultant seems as a reflection of the consultant or scarily they may appear better qualified than the consultant.  And yet, six to ten years into consulting, only few transcend to thought leaders, empowering partners.

Arguably, attitude, brains, capability, and diligence give much comfort to function –  not mastery to perform consulting.  It is fallacious to assume the only goal of consulting is to provide advice toward solving problems, when the challenge most clients face is producing the strategic change itself.  To produce that change in a client organization, the inventories of theories, models, tools, and techniques are required but seldom adequate.

Good is the enemy of great.  Good consultants view that their work for clients ennobles them; masterful consultants, on the other hand, view themselves as ennoblers of their work to clients.  To elaborate the quantum difference between good and masterful consulting, let us consider two important aspects of management consulting:

(1)  Interaction at various levels with client organization

(2)  Creation and management of knowledge

No two business organizations are alike. Every organization has a culture, a pattern with which the entire organization views, believes, and grows.  Most organizations, however, can be compartmentalized into five, levels (as shown in figure above) based on structural power within the organization.  Consultants often interact at all the levels of a client organization.  Usually the executive management anticipated change to be brought about in their organization resulting in hiring a consultancy to seek advice, expertise, or validation.

Levels 1-3 are rarely embrace change because of functional inertia and unitary mindset driven through insecurities, intense competition with peers, reluctance to let go, and other human behavioral factors.  Consultants pursue, analyze, and articulate research, and collect the fee.  As change agents, however, masterful consultants build consensus as partners, not as experts with middle managers and team leaders of client organizations. Typically the progress and/or milestones of the consulting project are familiarized to the executive management (level 4,5) in steering committee meetings.  At such important meetings, masterful consultants create copious ownership opportunities for middle managers and team leaders, call it client-centered consulting.  The client-centered approach stands in shining contrast to other approaches which other consultants may adopt namely, consultant- or consultancy-centered, or strategy-centered, or task-centered approaches.  Client-centric consulting cannot be used in a piecemeal fashion to produce mastery; it is a shared responsibility, a committed interactive approach.  As the parent guides the child, the masterful consultant guides the client so that both own the process of change.  The consultant empowers the client to own the outcome, the change itself, in deeper levels of the organization enabling faster and smoother transition.  On the consulting side of the spectrum, masterful consultants may not be as sharp or current as new MBA hires, but they differentiate themselves in the way they hold, apply, and communicate knowledge.

The theories and models are tacit in the background of their awareness, but their explicit use of the knowledge to reveal simple patterns is holistic and systemic.  Masters don’t pretend or present themselves as knowers to answers, which itself is a humbling sight.  Instead they are empathetic curators creating the perfect platform to discover the outcome with their clients. Yet there is more to consulting than knowledge creation.  The problem is not the lack of knowledge, but the inability to act on the knowledge.  Masterful consultants do not merely relay the knowledge in the form of a keynote presentation or a report with charts and graphs; they go the distance to apply the knowledge and implement the change with the client.  Know what you know.  More importantly, know what you do not know.  Don’t give advice; just ask great probing questions.

Dr. Mary Sully de Luque, Ph.D. teaches courses in Leadership at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona USA.  Earlier when she served as a post doctoral research fellow at the Wharton School with Dr. Robert House, Ph.D., she co-authored the seminal, ten-year research work, Culture, Leadership, and Organizations:  The GLOBE Study of 62 Countries. 


About Sudio Sudarsan

Sudio Sudarsan helps companies and startups drive demand and impact through more effective use of their brand, marketing, design, digital, and innovation assets. He teaches advanced courses in marketing to MBA students at premier b-schools in three continents around the world. You can follow him on Twitter @iSudio; view some of his retired presentations at View all posts by Sudio Sudarsan

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