This is one question to which there could be a thousand answers depending on who you talk to. So, the easy answer and all consultant’s eternal favourite is of course – “it depends”. It depends on your previous experience with specific individuals (consultants) if you are a client; it depends on the type of consultancy you have in mind (is it for strategy or for system integration for example?); depends on the seniority and role of the consultant (yes, junior consultants and analysts play to a different set of expectations vis-à-vis the senior consulting principals or partners), and it even depends on geography/cultural landscape amongst many other factors.
Is there any value in trying to answer this question?
I think there is! Despite all the many different skills and factors that differentiate the great consultant from the not so great, many of these can easily be grouped into easy to remember categories and therein lies the power. Once classified, this framework (provided below in this article) can then be used to populate personal development and learning pathways for anyone who aspires to become an exemplary consultant. In this new digital age of unprecedented change, it is not easy to survive by carrying on being just “good” at what we do professionally. And in any case, who does not want to reach the top of their game in life?
This article therefore attempts to lay out my thoughts using a couple of frameworks which will allow any consultant to deeply think about their personal strengths and improvement areas vis-à-vis what it really takes. Of course you can still be a very good consultant even if you don’t get to have it all, be it all, and turn into a consulting superman. But hopefully, this will give you a sense of trajectory and motivate you to really go for it. If you do, thanks, my goal in writing this post is successfully achieved!
A core principle that has always attracted me like nectar to a bee is that you always and a-l-w-a-y-s start with the customer and from a consultant’s perspective, – the “client”. And by the way, just what are clients thinking about before and during an engagement? I’d say the following (please read he and she interchangeably):
There is also one that lies beneath the surface – e) Do I like him enough?
In other words, the client is really trying to understand 1) who you are 2) what you know and 3) how you do things
Most consultants would agree with the above because this is quite easy to appreciate and visible above the line – please just reflect back on consulting engagements you have led/participated in the recent past. But beware : while the appropriateness of your attire, body language, and educational background/experience are also above the line and immediately apparent to your client, most of the skills, competencies, traits etc. lie below the surface and only start to become visible to your client as the days of engagement roll by. Hence you must not only ensure that these competencies are gained/developed and but also amply demonstrated as you conduct your consulting affairs. I find that there’s nothing like the metaphor of an iceberg to visually represent these above the “water” line and below the “water” line characteristics and competencies:
It may seem like a laundry list of traits and skills but trust me this is a well thought out inventory of skills and abilities that either directly or indirectly add value to the client. This aspect is explained with a diagram below but it is also important to point out at this point that all these key skills and abilities actually lie on a spectrum – from your innate personality based characteristics at one end to easily teachable skills at the other. Along this spectrum, most of them fall into one of three categories – 1) Personality, 2) People skills and 3) Process skills. For example, being enthusiastic or appearing confident are more or less personality based characteristics; “listening skills” and “influencing skills” can be classified to be “People skills”; whereas “problem solving” and “presentation skills” can be categorised as “process skills”. Note that these three categories directly align with the client’s three questions – who you are, what you do and how you do things.
As promised before, here is another framework to group the skills and visually bring together the key competencies that make a great consultant.
The inner circle represents the core skills and competency areas you must master (direct value to client), the middle circle represents the enabling capabilities and the outer circle represent the differentiators that clients will remember you for. These are not written in stone and where a particular skill falls often depends on the client or the engagement. However, the basic concept of the core, enabling, and differentiators, can be used universally and therein lies its power for any wannabe great consultant.
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Disclaimer: The point of view and opinions expressed in all my blog posts are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my current or previous employers