Consulting Services & Skills

Like ‘Analysis’, ‘Consulting’ is a term used with widely different connotations in modern business conversations. Like analysis, consulting is also a term that gets you thinking once you start trying to define it. I found it invaluable to spend some time unraveling “Consulting” and figuring out how to be a successful, respected consultant.

Fig. 1. Consulting Services

See also: what-is-consulting-definition

“The purpose of consulting is to help people solve problems and move from their current state to their desired state, which they may not be able to do by themselves as effectively, or as efficiently” – Krishna Deva

This paper discusses introductory answers to four questions:

    1. What does providing Consulting Services mean?
    2. When are Consulting Services required?
    3. What does it take to provide Consulting Services?
    4. Which are the Distinctive Skills for Consultants?

1. What does providing Consulting Services mean?

There are many views on what consultants do and what services they provide. I thought it would be important to begin from the demand side, to understand what providing consulting services means to the customer. After all, that is the raison d’etre for consultants, and it should be the context in which everything else about consulting services gets defined.

In trying to understand what consulting services could mean for the customer, we need to consider the results – the deliverables and the outcomes – that the customer gets. The ‘how’ of consulting is also a component of what consulting services mean, but not from the customer’s point of view. That is more important for the consulting provider to know and be good at. More of the ‘how’ in later sections.

Let’s begin our exploration of consulting services by understanding the expected deliverables and outcomes of providing consulting services.

  1. Deliverables of Consulting

The core of the deliverables from a consultant is usually a Report. The report typically begins with an “Executive Summary”, and contains the “Objectives of the Assignment” for which the consulting was undertaken, the “Facts and Data” that were considered, the established and credible “Bodies of Knowledge” that the consultant used, and the “Recommendations” of the ‘solution’ or ‘answer’ to the customer’s problem, or question.

Report

      1. Executive Summary
      2. Objectives of the Assignment
      3. Facts, Data & Studies
      4. Analysis (with ref to established bodies of knowledge)
      5. Recommendations

The thinking and analyses done by the consultant is inherent in the recommendations, and we can say that the report is a result of the consultant’s thinking. Typically, the detailed analyses and logic applied is not elaborated in the report unless the solution is heavily research oriented, or if it is complex and difficult to comprehend.

I have also seen many reports of consulting assignments where the Consultant was expected to validate and coherently re-present the analysis and solutioning done by the customer. In such cases the Consultant is ‘used’ as a credible third-party offering recommendations on which the insiders want a stamp of external, neutral approval.

In every case, it is an expectation that the recommendations, if followed, will lead to the outcomes desired, and will not create any new or bigger problems than might already be there. If anything, the recommendations are expected to reduce current problems by leveraging on as many synergistic opportunities as possible.

Typically, the Report is not only submitted but also presented by the consultant so that all implications of the contents are grasped completely, and any follow-up questions are addressed responsively and coherently.

The deliverables can be summarized in one line as follows:

“A Report including the Investigation, Learning, Research, Analysis and Experience-based Advice that Solves the Customer’s target problem/opportunity.”

2. Outcomes of Consulting

The primary outcome for the customer has to be their success, once they implement the recommendations. Without this expectation of success being met, the customer would never value the consulting exercise.

Another important outcome of consulting is the reputation it creates for the consultant. For a consultant, their reputation is critical to build up, because their credibility is important for the recommendations to be accepted, as well as for growth in their engagements. For a consultant, the two important elements in their reputation are respect for their caliber, and appreciation for what they are able to bring as outcomes.

The two outcomes from any successful consulting engagement are:

      1. Success for the Customer
      2. Respect and Appreciation for the Consultant

2. When are Consulting Services required?

These are the four situations in which consulting services are sought by customers:

    • When the Customer doesn’t know what the solution is
    • When the Customer doesn’t know what the problem is
    • When the Customer doesn’t know how to implement the solution
    • A combination of the above conditions, in any proportion

It may be natural to jump to the conclusion that consultants provide solutions, but the truth of the matter is that consultants often need to be called upon when the problem itself is not known or identifiable. For instance, a client organization might be suffering dropping productivity for the last two years, and a few initiatives may have been tried out by the management but did not help.

This would be a good point to bring in a consultant with more/diverse experience in resolving productivity issues. The consultant would be able to assess and analyze the realities within and around the organization to put together and propose solution options to the management.

Consultants with implementation experience are also sought out when the solution may have been identified and even detailed out to some extent to give the client confidence that it will work, but they may lack the capacity and capability to manage the execution/implementation. A consultant in this case would be a good temporary addition to their workforce to see through the solution to its effective implementation.

In general, consulting services are called upon in a wide variety of situations. Consultants may be sought out for any of the following types of solutions, and more:

Designing solutions to problems
Identifying the problem(s)
Competition analysis

Formulating strategy
Implementing new technology
Managing functions

And others…

3. What does it take to provide Consulting Services?

Consulting services typically follow the lifecycle outlined below. The sequence of stages/steps may be somewhat iterative depending on the situation and the ease/difficulty in accomplishing each stage, but the stages are all necessary to go through for the consultant.

The lifecycle of consulting can be visualized like the Greek symbol for ‘sigma’ (see Fig. 2 below). Starting at the point where the arrow points, follow the shape clockwise through the stages a, b, c, d, and e. The description of each stage is in the paragraphs that follow the figure.

Fig.2: Sigma of Consulting

a. Understanding the Problem from the Customer’s point of view

Consulting begins by building a good understanding of the ‘problem’ which the customer has articulated. It is important to identify all the opportunities that are being missed, as well as their effect on the ‘pain’ that is being created by those. Typically, the ‘pain’ is voiced by the customer and evident from data points of the outcome(s) not meeting desired goals.

P.R.O.B.L.E.M.: Perceived Risk of an Opportunity not Being Leveraged to Enhance the Meeting of goals. 

Understanding this ‘problem’ wisely is key to consulting.

b. Understanding the ground Realities 

Diving deeper into the causes and data, the next stage after identifying the problem(s) is to understand the realities of the situations in the customer’s organization and environment that have a bearing on the Customer’s pain points. Getting rid of biases and building a rich fabric of evidence and data is critical to correctly understand the reality, and therefore all the possible causes that lead to the effects.

This stage involves investigating all potential factors and functions, meeting various executives to understand their perspectives and experience, as well as to gather and analyze data for all relevant measures.

c. Applying Design Thinking & Problem Solving  

With a factual and unambiguous understanding of the problem and all the factors leading to it, this stage focuses on developing strategies and designing feasible solution options that have optimal impact and cost.

The steps typically follow this structure:

      • Define problem/focus/opportunity
        • Be Creative
        • Be Objective

Here is where lies the first opportunity for innovation. The creativity applied in finding new possibilities and definitions of the problem/focus/opportunity should lead to identifying obvious as well as not so obvious problems.

      • Conduct Causal AnalysisExplore all possible Cause-Effect relationships
      • Research for new/more causes/opportunitiesCritical Thinking

The findings of all research feed back into the earlier two steps above – Defining the problem, or Causal analysis.

      • Map and Correlate alternatives with impact areasDevelop Solution Sets

Going through the above steps helps in logical yet innovative solution sets, which can be compared for their respective benefits as well as costs and complexity.

d. Present Pros and Cons of Feasible Solution Options

The solution sets are presented to the customer stakeholders along with their pros and cons, and a Cost-Benefit Analysis for each solution set. Questions lead to refinement of the most suitable solutions.

e. Finalize the agreed upon Solution(s)

Build the Plan and complete the Consulting Report documentation for submission to the customer as the final deliverable.

4. Which are the Distinctive Skills for Consultants?

Distinctive Consulting Skills

This section calls out the skills and competencies that are critical for the consultant to demonstrate, for any consulting engagement to be effectively executed.

a. Customer orientation
i. Listening – to understand, appreciate the customer’s inputs and context
ii. Emotional Intelligence – to sense and prioritize pain points and opportunities
iii. Communication – specific, clear, relevant and up-front
iv. Retaining the focus on problem/benefit

b. Domain expertise – deep, broad, diverse – know/find out everything that could be relevant to the problem context, spanning all necessary facts, concepts, processes, procedures and principles of the domain and related domains.

c. Teleology – Inferences and conclusions based on teleology, discerning the purpose (effect) of every piece of information (cause) in the knowledge-map.
i. Critical Thinking
ii. Creativity
iii. Decision making

d. Communication skills
i. Language – must be the same as that of the client
ii. Written
iii. Drawn – [ref books by Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin, Draw to Win, Show and Tell)]
iv. Spoken – [ref Richard Chung (Compelling Communication-Oral Presentations)]
v. Presentation – https://summaries.com/blog/the-pop-up-pitch

e. ICT – Mastery of the Tools of Expression
Creativity has value only once it is expressed. Every creative person tends to be so because they master expression in the medium of their customer. When we are creating value for the customer, we need to master the medium(s) of creation that we (and the customer) choose to communicate in.

  1. Mastery over communication mediums.
    1. Written, Drawn, Spoken, Presented – Word, PowerPoint, diction
    2. Email – Microsoft Outlook (or any other email app of choice)
    3. Video conferencing – Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, etc.
    4. Contemporary with, and ahead of others

f. Soft skills
There are a host of soft skills that are important for a consultant’s success – focus, planning, patience, open-mindedness, etc. which are critical at various times, and a consultant picks the ones they need with experience.

Consulting is an immensely fulfilling engagement if it is done with integrity, sincerity, diligence, and also with curiosity, creativity, and passion. Consultants can be very influential in the trajectory of organizations and individuals. Consulting is one of the most respected professions, and gives you opportunities to study new and challenging situations, traveling and meeting people across the world. It is an engagement of responsibility and potential.

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FOG: The Future of Growth…

Two years into the pandemic, everyone’s wondering again and still about the Future of Work. Talks and webinars and conferences are being organized to understand what organizations and people are going through. With Wave 3 (Omicron) peaking, it is pretty much agreed that the resilience of humans has ensured that we found ways to continue to operate, and economies are reflecting this resilience.

The Future of Work seems to be safe. ‘Hybrid’ is what the consensus is. But it is increasingly becoming apparent that the pandemic is in for a longer spell than we had hoped for, and the question we now have to start thinking about is – “What is the Future of Growth?”.

This question gains significance because the fresh workforce which was recruited during the last two years would have never experienced ‘pre-pandemic’ work in offices, and some of these people would also be coming up for their first role change into a bigger role, maybe supervising people remotely. But what does that mean?

We need solutions for the new problems being faced today. Many instances of “I don’t want to attend meetings” are being reported. We need to address the root of the problem (meetings were not effective nor defined with required agendas), not try to replicate what used to happen. The new joinees have never experienced in-person meetings, or workshops where they could see their colleagues face-to-face, or eye-to-eye, nor do the old KRAs/KPIs make complete sense when used for determining promotions.

There are new questions that the #futureofgrowth will need us to think about, from everyone’s point of view, the subordinates’ and the supervisors’. The realization is stronger now of the social fabric in any organization. What is the social fabric made of, what does it enable or inhibit, and how can it be replaced with wholesome and productive mechanisms.

Some questions that may have interesting answers now…

Questions From the Subordinates’ Point of View

  • How will my performance be assessed?
  • How will my promotion be decided?
  • What is the extra I can do beyond what is assigned to me, and which will win me brownie points?
  • How will I Learn by Observation?
  • From where will I Absorb Tacit Knowledge
  • Who are the Leaders? From the Social Media universe, Influencers are the leaders, do they become organizational “Gurus” as well?
  • Interpersonal motivation – how and from where do I get it?

Questions From the Supervisors’ Point of View

  • How will managers develop subordinates?
  • How to assess the competencies of subordinates?
  • How to identify the potential growth areas for subordinates?
  • Situational Leadership? What is that going to be driven by?
  • How will coaching and mentoring evolve?

Challenges For Everyone

  • Many of the familiar ways of working no longer help in the new Organization Dynamic
  • Mastering/Leveraging New mediums of self-expression – text, voice, video, language
  • How will we learn emotional intelligence?

Many questions like the ones above are beginning to gain importance, and we will have to find new answers. It is an exciting future for sure!

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I don’t have time for this now!

Whenever people hear of having to know something they don’t know, the common reflexive response is – “I don’t have time to learn this now”. This is almost as if regretting the fact that they missed knowing this earlier, when they may have had the choice to spend time on this. 

We only seem to have time to be more of what we are. Unfortunately so. We don’t ‘have’ the time to be different from what we are. Or at least to be different from what we think we are. We think we are bound to be the way we think we are. Think about it.  And think about where to get the time from, to be different from what we think we are.

I’ve realized that making time begins in the mind, and fructifies in removing waste reducers.  I just believe I have more time than my watch may tell me.  My to-do list is always longer than my day, but never so long that I feel defeated.  I always believe that if I’m doing something I’ve done before, I will take less time doing it again.  That’s where I ‘make’ time.

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What does meaning mean to us?

We humans are a social animal. The structure of our needs has been shown by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs… from Biological up to Security, to Belonging, to Recognition, and finally of Self-Actualization.

Each one of these needs beyond the first two, from Belonging upwards, depends a lot on the meaning we build as our own from our community(ies), the recognition (appreciation) we gather, and the new (personal/original) meaning we are able to convey (add) to our community (the world we understand). What does meaning mean to us?

The book, “The Three Laws of Performance” makes the point so emphatically – “How things occur to us depends on the language we use”. What does this mean? Does language lead to meaning, or is it the other way around? Is its meaning important for us? And therefore to us?

Of course, language is a natural form of communication, and as such there will be varying degrees of ‘language’ used by different people, all of which we need to be accommodated in our understanding. That notwithstanding, does the widespread adoption of a wide vocabulary, clear, consistent, correct, and precise language have a direct correspondence with the growth and evolution of a community?

This is an invitation to a conversation on the meaning of language, and what it means to us, building from what it means to each one of us. You’re invited to be a part of this conversation right hereClick and post your thoughts and read what others are saying as well.

What does meaning mean to us?

What role does the (correctness of) language mean for all of us?

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Trainers Don’t Need To Be Trained!

Do Trainers need training?  Yes of course they need training, but they do not need to be trained.  This is what makes them Trainers at the cutting edge. 

Obviously, if they need to be trained, then they are the learner.  If a trainer believes they have outgrown the learning stage, they are actually doomed as a trainer.  All trainers worth their salt accept that they need to keep learning constantly, just to keep pace with the rapidly learning youngsters who will ask them questions during their training sessions.  The better trainers learn faster than anyone else.  It’s just that simple.

So how do Trainers learn so quickly?  What do Trainers do to learn without being trained?

Trainers are experts at focusing on learning objectives and asking questions, assimilating answers, and practicing without inertia.  This expertise of asking questions is the expertise knowing which questions to ask, how to ask which question, who or what to tap for the answers, and what questions need to be answered first.  This expertise naturally gets them the answers before anyone else, and that is what creates the opportunity for them to be Trainers.

Trainers develop the ability to assess the purpose for every piece of information.  While good learners need to know how to answer all the questions they are presented with, good teachers need to be able to reverse-engineer the questions from looking at all the information (‘answers’) that they perceive.  Trainers have to be able to determine the objective from the response.  And, the best trainers are able to ask new questions, questions they have never been faced with.

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Faith? At a time like this…

It is paradoxical and extremely unfortunate that there are elements among humanity who seek to take advantage of the heightened faith that we humans tend to have at times like this, when we don’t really know the cause of our suffering, or its remedy… the ‘fake news’ pandemic is what we see growing all around us, and we are likely victims of it with every other message we receive…

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/news/scamsters-make-hay-amid-pandemic-5165994

It is a very opportune time I feel, for each one of us to recall that the only Truth is what we believe in.  Truth is what we give credibility to.  Even the dictionary defines Truth as a Definite set of beliefs.  So what is the truth?  Lets talk a little more about what it is not.

Taking advantage of the faith and belief that we, the people repose in them, scamsters like Baba Ram Rahim (an example from some months ago), and thousands before and after him, grow in their influence and prosperity.  Our faith also needs to evolve to keep pace with their increasingly ridiculous statements, until we can safely label our faith as ‘blind’, after which there seems no remedy to our future.  I can recall many living ‘legends’ who may qualify in the category who we repose faith in as ‘lay’ people.. Heads of state the world over are joining this club.. Or have we been pushing them towards it ourselves?

So called ‘God-men’, and they abound in every part of the world where they have people to believe in them, were the founder-members of this club.  In fact even in play, we realize that GOD actually stands for ‘Greater On Demand’… the one we demand to be greater becomes God!  We just need to realize the ways we are demanding them to be greater, and we will get all the answers to the questions popping up in our heads. We, the herd, have been pushing forward the sheep who don the lion’s skin at the front, and make sure the herd always believes in their own ignorance (sheep-like). This ignorance of ours is what gives them their power over us.

Many years ago I had thought FAITH was the Feeling of Adoration Inspired by Trust and Hope.  I do not discount for a minute, the possibility of hope arising out of helplessness, ignorant faith being confused for trust, and sycophancy being mistaken for adoration.  Let’s us be mindful of the monsters we create ourselves.

So what is the Truth?  What can we have Faith in? What must our behavior be like?

The answers lie within us, within every one of us.  Discerning, meditative inquiry, and mindful behavior lead us to the manifestation of our Truths, while at the same time protecting us from what is not the truth.

  • Discerning, meditative Inquiry
  • Mindful Behavior

Stay mindful, stay safe, stay enlightened… the ultimate responsibility is our own!

Requirements?

Understanding & Developing Project Requirements

Requirements –> Strategy –> Plan –> Execute –> Evaluate

These are the five keys for successful project execution. Understanding requirements is probably the most important key because if requirements are not understood correctly right from the beginning, the entire project can lead to a solution way off target. Apart from wasted time, resource, and money, this leads to a dissatisfied and frustrated customer.

The most common trap in understanding requirements is to stay with what we already know, what we have experienced in the past, and look for the most easily apparent solution, rather than the problem which the customer is experiencing. In this case it seems we would be looking for a lock when we already have a key, or simply putting the cart before the horse.

Understanding requirements from the customer’s point of view requires empathizing with the customer, their situation, their needs and wants, their challenges and their aspirations for success. Reading and re-reading their problem statement is something we need to do often, even after we have started developing the solution strategy. Staying with the problem and thinking about it long enough is key.

As we begin developing the requirements, the simplest proof of whether we have understood the problem correctly is to paraphrase it and see if the customer still resonates with our description of it. We progressively detail the problem articulation and successively involve the customer in responding to potential solution strategies with their pros and cons. If the resonance sustains through the design stage, we have the problem(s) identified and isolated.

Re-statement of the problem and getting concurrence from the customer on what it is, as well as what it is not, gives us the clear starting point from where we can start strategizing on the possible solution sets, and paths to them.

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