"When you don’t have direct control over people and yet want them to listen to you and heed your advice, you are face-to-face with the consultant’s dilemma."
The third edition of Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting comes a decade after the second edition. Most will agree that since then there have been change and new challenges that consultants face. Block addresses what the new generation of consultants may experience in the field. The book walks the reader through five phases of consulting and how to apply best practices. Block provides ideas of smarter questions to ask and how to deal with a difficult client. He also shares insight on how to identify when a contract may not be in the best interest of a consultant. These are useful tips for newer consultants who are eager to gain clients, as well as season consultants who apply outdated practices. His ability to use illustrations and exercises helps support the concepts throughout the text. His approach is twofold, based on authentic relationships and doing the right work at the right time. In a business world that moves fast, Flawless Consulting is refreshing because it gets back to the focus of human relationships and providing a product that will benefit and sustain the client. The book could easily be a go to guide for those in the consulting field.
The Big Idea
Keep consulting simple and focus on two dimensions
"Consulting can seem vague and overly complicated when in fact it is possible to consult without error and to do so quite simply."
The consultant must focus on two dimensions whenever they are interacting with the client. First is to build an authentic relationship with the customer. Consultants should be honest and articulate their experiences with the customer. The second dimension is to be knowledgeable about what needs to happen during each phase of the project and ensuring that the phase is completed before moving on. Block lays out the phases as follows: Contracting, Discovery and Inquiry, Feedback and the Decision to Act, and Engagement and Implementation. By keeping this in the forefront as the consultant is interacting with the client, Block believes the consultant can prevent making mistakes. Block is not saying there may not be struggles, rather by applying these concepts it will help the consultant keep their integrity as well as provide the best application of their consultant efforts.
The Art of Being Authentic
"The authentic responses focus on the relationship between the consultant and the client and force the client to give importance to the consultant’s role and wants for the project."
I appreciate this concept of being authentic in all facets of life and how great to apply it in consultant relationships. Instead of trying to impress a customer with clever ways to present ideas, put more energy into building trust with the customer. At the point a customer seeks support outside their organization, it is most likely they have tried everything in their knowledge to resolve the issue. Therefore they can be vulnerable and stressed. They want someone that will have their and the organization’s best interests in mind. The more the trust the client has in their consultant the more leverage that consultant will have within the project. In addition, the client will be more willing to commit to what the consultant develops for the organization. With all that said being authentic is a simple behavior. It literally is putting into words what one feels and or has experienced. Do not get caught up in misleading your customer just to appease them. It’s a bad practice and in the long term will fail. Find your authentic space and use it with customer relationships.
Knowing the right steps at the right time
"By not confronting the tasks of each phase, we are left with accumulating unfinished business that comes back to haunt us."
Knowing what to do and when to do it seems simple but can easily be lost. How often during a project a consultant get distracted by a line manager’s agendas or be pushed by the customer to move ahead before it’s time. It is an important skill to be mindful of when hired—even if it goes against what the customer is pushing. Block stresses throughout the book this very important factor of flawless consulting. For example, if a consultant and client skip ahead and do not lay out their wants until two months into the contract or not at all, it could lead to disaster later. It is important at the beginning that expectations are well known by both sides. When tasks are not completed in the proper phase it will hang around and effect the outcome of the project. Laying down this foundation at the beginning will set the tone of what to expect from the customer throughout the project. Consultants should get in the practice of laying out the steps to complete a project successfully and ensure the client buys in to move forward successfully.
Consultation can be tricky and some in the business are so preoccupied with getting projects that they lose sight of building a quality workload. They make mistakes and create frustration that is avoidable. Flawless Consulting lays out the steps and addresses how to work through the issues that arise and how to read the customer. I believe the text gives a holistic approach of how to be an effective consultant. The concepts can lead to stronger client-consultant relationships and stronger skill sets in creating solutions for customers. Much of a consultants’ work is based on relationships and results. This book gives clarity of how to approach the customer and create a successful track record for consultants. It’s a great book for the growing consulting field and those that find they use consultants for their organizations.