Consultancy Skills Toolkit

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Consultancy Styles

There are a variety of consultancy styles - each suited to different people and different situations. For example:

Expert

Some consultants adopt the Expert style - they see themselves as bringing a knowledgeable, independent approach to the client - a depth of knowledge and expertise that the client lacks. A style often employed by medical practitioners, technical/IT consultants, and business strategy  analysts. Extremely useful in some situations but absolutely inappropriate in others.

Process

Others see their prime contribution as working on and helping with the Process. Sometimes working with the client to help them to decide what is to be done and how it is to be achieved, sometimes working with a manager to help them review their management style, or at other times working with a team to help them work together more effectively. Coaching, counselling, and organisational development all fall under this heading.

Pair of Hands

Yet others see themselves as essentially a Pair of Hands. Their task is to help the client to implement the clients strategies, plans, and decisions. A style often employed by some of the larger consultancy bureaus.

Three consultancy styles

So, which style is the best one? Clearly it depends on what the situation and the client requires. In some situations the expert style may be most effective, whereas in others the process style would be best employed.

In practice consultants rarely work within one single style - their position is somewhere within the triangle above. The dot in the triangle depicts someone who has a strong preference for process working but who can flex into other styles as the situation requires.

For practicing consultants the message from this is quite simple:

  1. Try to establish your own preferred style of consultancy - essentially where you lie within the triangle - and then develop your ability to flex and operate in your less preferred styles. (note: Process consulting is covered best in books by Edgar Schein who pioneered the field.)

  2. When starting an assignment, consciously assess what style of consultancy the situation and the client require and what you can provide. Attempt to avoid a style mismatch e.g.  working in a process mode with a situation and client that requires an expert mode.

  3. In your contracting, ensure that you agree this with the client - so that they are clear about the style you will be adopting.

Consultancy Development - Key Points

Where is your consulting "comfort zone"?

Your comfort zone is the style that you are personally most comfortable with.  For some it is "process consulting", for others "facilitation", for yet others it is "expert advice". We can all flex and operate outside of this comfort zone - but only within limits. What is your comfort zone and what are the limits? 

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Planning, organising, interpersonal skills, creativity? Identify them and then major on your strengths and start to develop to remedy your weaknesses. 

What is your organisational role?

Internal consultants often have a dual role. They consult but they are part of a group with functional responsibilities which carry a monitoring accountability e.g. internal audit. Such dual roles can make uneasy bedfellows and confuse both you and the client.

Consultancy Ethics

And finally - consultancy can be a seductive role. One can be in a situation of having influence and knowledge far beyond what people in the client's team have. Some consultants can be tempted to misuse this. But as a consultant you do need a set of ethics to work to.

If a client invites you into their operation to help them, they have the right to expect that you:

  1. respect the their knowledge, experience, and expertise

  2. not to be over-prescriptive or judgemental

  3. respect confidentiality

  4. avoid becoming involved in the internal politics

  5. remain in the role that they expect you to fulfil