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A primer for the expert consultant

1988, 1989, 1998 Ioan Tenner

Copying parts or the entire article is permitted for personal or educational usage only with clear mention of this copyright statement. Printed publication without written approval from the author is not permitted. Ioan Tenner, 38 Ch. du Pr-de-la-Croix, 1222 Geneva Switzerland, Tel./fax: +4122 772 0292, mobile: +41-78 7111 408, E-mail: Consulting Difference 1


What is a consultant? How is a consultant different from other professional people? How to know who is and who isnt one? In what is consulting different from people management, from project management, or research and expert work? Is there a special style of thinking and acting, unique to consultants? How to explain the added value we give as consultants? How to ensure that the conditions necessary to succeed such work are negotiated? What features do consultants need to develop to become excellent? The essay is my answer to these questions. The reader will find in the following pages, models and rules of thumb for consulting excellence. My aim is not to analyse or prove. I want to shape and improve Consultancy. The intention is to support consultants when they need to explain, to value and to expand their competence and the benefit they give to clients. Between the lines, this essay expresses the core of my belief; Experts, scholars, knowledge workers, white collars, intellectuals of all kinds are not doomed to be powerless spectators or political pawns of this world. In war and peace, industry and commerce, finance and art, religion and government, in strategy and tactics, things are done through the intervention and the transfer of knowledge, of experience, of knowhow and of wisdom (or unfortunately, of the opposite to wisdom). The creation, the communication and the application of ideas are among the strongest industrial forces in todays Civilisation, to its best and worst. Knowledge-work has a clear action value and a high money value. But most intellectuals I met have yet to learn the art of doing things with ideas. I work for this art.

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Who are the consultants?

From many meanings of the word consultant and ways to qualify it, I want to present the work of people that should be called expert consultants. Such people are generalists in the sense that the skills of giving advice and the facilitation tactics used apply to almost any expertise. We could call the same consultants, experts. Consultants are knowledge workers. They include, but not exclusively, management consultants and a variety of advice-giving professionals: scientists, engineers, educators, lawyers, artists, military, accountants, and businesspeople. Senior managers are in this sense management consultants who provide strategic and operational advice to their executives, to their peers or to their subordinates. All these people find themselves in a position to give advice and to help other people to use the advice. While the common or general aspect is the skill to advise and make things happen, the expert side is the specialised know-how and knowledge without which consulting would have little value. In theory there is a whole range of approaches to consulting, between content free and content heavy. In practice there is no pure expertise consulting as there is no pure communication or process consulting. Some Organisation Development colleagues and Human Resource Development agencies, claim to practice pure process or even content-free intervention. I dont believe that this is possible. In fact, process consulting applies a content expertise (about human processes). The process interventions require advanced knowledge of social science and concrete competencies grown through practical experience. Any person, who has mature expertise in any field and is able to communicate it usefully, is a potential consultant.

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What is consulting?

Consulting is helping other people to manage, to do things - not managing other people to do things, and not doing things for other people. It is work of a third type. This is why I claim that there is a perceptible consulting difference. In other words I define consulting as a pragmatic, professional service, offering to a contractual, temporary client: expert looking, listening and asking questions, needs, situation and risk assessment, forecasting, decision advice, transfer of expertise and intervention.


Let me give a short explanation: Consulting is pragmatic for it is a result-orientated practice. Instead of serving the finding of a truth or the perfection in method, it serves action and results. Today, we see consulting evolving into a vocation of knowledge and know-how transfer for practical purpose, different and sometimes opposed to the practices of scientific research and to the teaching of expertise for its own sake. Consulting is a professional service given by people, who are talented, highly educated or experienced, employed for their expertise and personal impact. Consulting is a service evaluated in terms of demand and offer. Advice and help are offered for sale to contractual clients who may accept and buy them, possibly only on a temporary basis. It is also a transaction of trust. It can not be forced upon people. It means serving other people. You can not be sent to consult unwilling people who are not your clients. It is a very specific and fragile feature of consulting, to be so dependent on perception, on the personal credibility of the adviser and on the degree of mutual agreement, understanding, and acceptance between the adviser and the clients. There is one-time or brief consultancy, usually explanation, support or advice, which may be given occasionally by any knowledgeable person. However, professional consulting is today a specialised and structured occupation with temporary assignments of shorter or longer term.


Service offering to a contractual, temporary client

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Expert looking, listening

The first offering of the profession is expert looking and listening. This is another way to say that the mandatory groundwork of consulting is observation and understanding. The human quality and the technique of the listening as well as the prestige of the listener may even be the core of the offer in some forms of consulting, like psychoanalysis or the catholic confession. Listening and observing is a warranty that you will understand the clients situation, their interests and points of view, not only the subject. It is the main chance to develop a bias for client reality instead of blindness produced by our own knowledge. Quality listening is the first non-tangible deliverable of any consulting service and a critical success factor in understanding the client and in building the support relationship.

Asking questions

Your second offer is in your questions and in your method of questioning. People expect all consultants to be able to ask the right questions and listen to the clients answers. Questioning and building ways from the clients own answers are an effective manner to lead people in a process of clarifying and achieving what they want. This is how clients understand a solution and own it afterwards. Before giving solutions, and even without an explicit request, professional consultants would also ask questions to probe and to clarify their clients presented needs and problems. Thirdly, a professional consultant would appreciate the situation and the environment in order to forecast the opportunities and risks of alternative developments. It is assumed that the consultant has a wider horizon than the problem presented and foresees the possible outcomes of a choice of courses of action. Not meeting or not clarifying some of these implicit expectations is the source of low service quality and bitter disappointment.

Needs, situation and risk assessment

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Forecasting, decision advice

Further, the consultant is a professional in giving advice that is relevant, in forms that are helping things to happen; that is, decision advice. The consultant shares with everybody else on the planet the capacity to give advice. The difference is most probably in the degree of competence, the client-centred attitude, the authority and the impact of that advice and its resulting in action. I hope that it is clear throughout this study, as I already insisted that in spite of the importance of communication skills and of general consulting competencies, the essence of any consulting is authentic expertise. Without relevant knowledge, know-how, experience or talent, a consultant would be a mere comedian. Valuable expertise is the pre - requisite to bear in mind while this study stresses the competency to convey usefully, real expertise, to other people. All consultants are thus management consultants. A management consultant is then in a broad sense, a person who gives advice that helps to manage: a situation, a change, an activity or an enterprise. Management consulting is offered to deciders, to people who carry out decisions, but also, in the largest meaning, to people who do work and have some issue to manage. The consulting advice is always informing and supporting decisions made by the client, be it by awareness, by planning or by help to run implementation projects.

Transfer of expertise and decision support

You complete a consulting service with a solution and with help to turn it into results. From a corporate director in a top responsibility role to a private individual, the concern when seeking counsel is to manage a problem or an opportunity. The client prefers, most of the times, the consultant to suggest, even order the best solution. But wise consultancy should be, and actually becomes nowadays, transfer of expertise and decision support by or with the client, to replace the riskier forms of one-best-way assertion and turnkey solution. Most of the consulting firms today have an explicit component of intervention: helping the client to build strategies, solving problems to the extent of producing results, expert work done on behalf of a client, project planning and launching across the organisation.


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Intervention used to be a debated part of a consulting assignment. Some schools, mainly of social and political science origin, consider that process and intervention are the must of the profession. On the other hand, many clients do not accept to have things done onto them. Such clients expect consultancy to be scientific, uninvolved, and to result in objective conclusions. Social scientists, like modern physicists, believe that inquiry modifies its object. You cannot ask, analyse, give information or share knowledge without deep impact. For an example I am aware that this study is a form of organisational intervention (when it is read and accepted). To cut a long debate short, I think that most consultants are assumed to intervene and to make things happen to improve their clients situation and business. This is similar to teachers growing ones knowledge, doctors improving ones health, or lawyers, defending ones interests. But I also would use another metaphor, that of a priest, who is concluding the marriage (between supplier and buyer for an example) properly, without himself getting married to either of the parties. Project management, Often, project management follow-up is included and makes most of the income in a consulting firm. However, the most important and change management intervention expected from all consultants is change management support. A consultant is supposed to help and facilitate change to actually happen. This is opposed to an obsolete hit and run style of management consulting. That service used to consist in an audit and some strong strategic or restructuring concept billed fast, with no further responsibility and no follow-up commitment from the consulting company. One last defining expectation towards consultants: Traditional consulting is responsive. The client (or the virtual client) perceived a need, has an intention or a problem. The consultant is required to respond to it) and to help the client to cope with whatever the environment is giving by proposing an adequate strategy, tactic, solution, action plan or tool.

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New directions in consulting are proactive. The high-end consultant is a Socratic entrepreneur, a creative thinker who is educating the client to do new things in new environments. The most valuable benefits of consulting come from generating change and leading transformation. Our work is the opening of new (and useful) perspectives, and the active support given to people to change and to make their own future. To quote George Bernard Shaw: You see things and you say Why? But I dream things that never were and say Why not?

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Five reasons behind the need for consulting

The need that is to be met by a consultant is certainly very simple at first sight; some help is needed, some work is to be done. Quality knowledge, know-how and experience are required. But the reasons behind the perceived need are deeper. The reality is subtler. Behind the requirement for work to be done there are specific motives to call in consultants to do that work, instead of using ones own resources. I like to list five motives (these causes are boiled down from literature about change, change management, knowledge transfer and management consulting also from the experiences shared by many consultant colleagues) in order of priority: 1. Risk, uncertainty, complexity and incompetence. 2. Change-pace, newness and surprise. 3. Conflict and influence. 4. Transient need for unique expertise. 5. Out-of-the-box exploring and transformation. Each time I am called to give advice I would use the list of reasons to ask myself: Why do they invite me? What do they hope in this case? What do I offer to meet all or some of these five reasons?

Risk, uncertainty, complexity and incompetence

The first motive of requiring the services of a consultant is risk. People love to share risk. Without risk aggravated with uncertainty, vagueness and doubt, individuals and organisations do not invest in consulting. People do not ask for billable advice spontaneously. Usually they do not like to involve outsiders. The driving force is the need to share and diminish a risk. I must remember that this is what I have to produce less risk. A familiar setting seems to be found every time a consultant is opening a door. Everything is just too complex around. Honest people are struggling with wicked ambiguity (no serious and objective definition is available). Worst, at least some hosts hide a guilty feeling of ignorance. Otherwise, if they could manage it by themselves, who would ever call a consultant?

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Tolerance to incompetence and the respectful readiness to help with patience people who do not know, are critical in the practice of consulting. Persons allergic to incompetence cannot be consultants.

Change-pace, newness and surprise

Newness and its pace are the next best reason for calling upon a consultant. With no exception, the subject of consulting is change. I believe that consulting (under many names) is an explosively growing business, world wide, because of the way our Civilisation evolves. The technological speeds achieved and the acceleration of social processes create an ever increasing need for support from people and organisations capable to learn the new things and unlearn the old ways.
Individuals and organisations call consultants to help others cope with the surprises of change and adapt to its pace. While the need for creative knowledge workers able to support change-management is growing, under the current demographic trends, and with the traditional education methods, the school and university systems world-wide are unable to produce such a competency. This may be very good news for some of us; it means that we are in business for life.

Conflict and influence

Very often, there is another hidden factor behind calling a consultant: conflict. Part of the client may want an impartial referee, a facilitator or a negotiator, others hope to use the consultant as a weapon. There is always an expectation of influence. The outsider is necessary and is called to confirm something or to convince somebody or even to do something that the natives do not want to do themselves. The daily business of a consultant is diplomacy.

Transient need for There is often a purely economic consideration in hiring external or periodically reassigning internal consultants. At a given moment, in a unique expertise

business, there is a temporary need for some unique high level expertise. Consultants can be an answer.

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The massive use of external or, even better, internal Consultants may even be an elegant (or expedient) solution to the ever changing Organisation sizes and structures, attractive in turbulent times. Recently we can see consultancy used to diminish social obligation towards costly workforce. My guess is that consultancy will be the most important job of the next century. Consultants work only where they are needed.

The high end of consulting is dedicated to enterprise undergoing crisis, expansion or substitution. Most of the driving forces quoted above as calling for homeostatic consulting, inviting responsive problem-solving-and-trouble-shooting work.

Out-of-the-box exploring and transformation

Exploration consultancy (often named out-of-the-box or strategic) is a different mindset. It is apparent now that being strategic is not doing the same things you did and your competitors did, forever better. Strategy means today at least doing the same things differently and better, doing new, different things. The approach of proactive consultancy is also value chain conscious. We should go beyond trying to solve our clients problems by a solution sold to them. The aim is to advise the clients how to re-think themselves in order to achieve more and win, with their own suppliers and clients, in their evolving environment or market. We must work for the clients clients, not for the clients. Exploration doesnt concentrate on the past, nor the present. It looks into the future. Let me coin an expression for this; what is required is not feedback but forefeed; i.e., responses that come from the future. The companies of this ever smaller world can only survive and be successful if they are homeorhetic; i.e., if they maintain stability not by sustaining a steady state but through permanent improvement and transformation. When transformation stops, they decline. To survive and thrive, the heavy organisational and social bodies need assistance to explore new ways, things done never before, and to understand their implications. Therefore, a special type of service, proactive consulting is required.

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Last, what most companies and individuals expect from consultants is fresh blood; new ideas, your energy and your enthusiasm. This is a vampire business. You must find every day new blood to give to your clients. In the end of the day if you are not exhausted you didnt work well enough. (I hope my readers and potential clients will pardon this joke).

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The consulting difference

I used to teach these six rules of thumb as six sources of professional power: 1. The power to make things simple 2. The pragmatic attitude 3. The tactic of giving a choice 4. The N1 strategy 5. A rhetoric of action 6. An art of change I present them as six signs useful to diagnose who is and who is not a consultant. Some consultant colleagues seem to appreciate them as directions of self-assessment and self-improvement. I am certain that clients could use them to evaluate and buy quality consulting.

The power to make This sentence looks elementary. It is not. Let me explain. things simple

People need advice and guidance because of uncertainty. When things are too complicated, individuals and groups alike feel and fear loss of control. As we saw earlier, that is why they need help. They need help to diminish the complexity. Whoever is able to make things simple gains power. Politicians know that only too well. Let me summarise this consulting difference:

A good specialist can explain with precision. He can explain things as complicated as they exactly are. A good consultant can explain with simplicity. He can explain how manageable things are.

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While listening to an explanation given by an expert, the normal urge of a client is to delegate it back to the specialist. It is precise, true, factual, but just too complicated. It is the way my father, a university professor in electronics and automation, used to speak to me. I asked him to help me solve some simple problem of mathematics for the next day. He wanted to explain all mathematics (this is probably why I became a psychologist, a journalist and a teacher and, finally, a consultant, anything but a scientist). A consultant clarifies the sufficient, in simple words. The benefit is to help people be and feel in control. The relevant subject is what can be done rather than how complex the causes and mechanisms are.


The most important explaining method of a consultant is analogy. Like Socrates, you find an example that people understand and figure. Then you compare with it the complicated thing to explain. You lead people from what they know towards what they do not know. Moreover, you prefer to leave the model open. Metaphors do not explain. They provoke thought. The typical questions could be: Did you experience something like this? Tell me about similar cases that you encountered. What did you learn from them? What do you think we should consider now?

The typical comments could be: This reminds me of a similar case from my own practice... Let us look at this model and see how to adapt it I found that someone had a very useful explanation of this This is how it happened and how we did...

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The typical suggestions could be: By comparison, you have a choice to deal with it by the following ways... I went through this myself and I observed some errors to avoid... People will understand better if we put it this way... I will not confuse you with all the jargon and all the details... The key points seem to be... What we can do, is...

The difference between expert and consultant is not a matter of expertise but of role and human impact. Both must have the expertise but they use it differently. The same person may have to play alternatively the two roles. The difficulty is that the more one acts expert the less one is consultant. Expert and expert-consultant are two different vocations.

The pragmatic attitude

Pragmatism in consulting means to be client-centred and biased towards results. This goes against our education. Most of us learned in school to value and be guided by a discipline, something impersonal, beyond daily life; truth, science, profit, ideal, faith, justice, art. Consulting is serving something personal and biased; it serves peoples actions and interests. Actions are not something that is given, but something that is making. As experts we are committed to accurate completeness and perfection. In good, serious work our field of expertise, our authority, our technology, a content matter, prevail. We turn our face to the field we explain and not to the people we explain it to. A consultant practises the opposite of the expert attitude.

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The aim of consulting is to help, here and now, this, usually imperfect, individual or Organisation succeed. This client is not impersonal and success is not complete, nor objective, but a relative achievement, practical, and situational. Trust, empathy, reliability, purpose, feasibility and finally, getting results, are more important in consulting than the means of method and precision. Man is the measure of all things as Protagoras said. This may be wrong in philosophy but it is quite appropriate in practice. The ethic of the consultant is to consider the issues and the knowledge available, in good faith, from the angle of the clients best interest. We have a bias for clients and for getting things done. Indifferent consulting is coming with right methods and ready-made answers. It is knowledge-centred, technology-centred or psychology centred. Client-centred consulting will start by walking a mile in the clients shoes. A skilled consultant will not speak before listening. He has first to understand this client, to learn some of his words, to share his meanings and interests. The choice of method will fit the concrete subject but also will consider the situation, the intention, the timing, the people concerned, their readiness to understand, their feelings and legitimate interests. This is a heretical view of methodology. It is a very common view of wisdom. Valuable advice is mind-size for this client, right now.

Client centring

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A solution is something feasible and acceptable, not in general, but here and now. The consultant will do his work by considering the world trough the eyes of the client instead of serving one of the distant entities we all learned to be the ultimate. Even more so, if the client is wrong or you know much, much, more about the subject; if you want to change somebodys mind you must know first where that mind is and start from there. This is the client-centred attitude. There are rules of thumb for client-centred consultancy. Let me share what I think to be some rules of thumb in practising clientcentred consulting: You cannot consult fairly people you dislike. Research in psychology concluded amazingly that the (positive) attitudes and feelings of a therapist are more important to cure illness than the school of theory used and its scientific value. This is shocking but meaningful. An effective consultant is client-friendly and the client becomes his friend. The method to use is simple; if you want to have friends, be a friend. Clients are persons, motivated by human benefit. Advice which neglects individual interest is uninteresting. Have only one client at a time! You have credibility and you are effective as an adviser, to a person or to a group, only based on trust. You cannot be sent to consult people against their will.

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Ethically speaking, but also as a basic method, it is out of question to report on a client or to breach confidentiality. A written or informal contract must clarify this at the very start of a consulting assignment. One error in this and you are burnt. You do not need to be a psychologist to understand people. Our own, deepest, most intimate concerns and motivations, are the ones shared by most people on earth. The point of view and some vectors may differ, the circumstances too, but not the human nature. As you fear and wish, they do too. Therefore common sense is a good guide; if you want to know people, know yourself, imagine yourself in their situation and take time to observe and check your assumptions.


Offer advice, but let the clients help themselves to it! Clients will accept and use only as much as they are ready to understand and receive. You can take the horse to the water but you cannot make him drink. Avoid doing things for the client if you can help the client to do them. A consultants role is, at his best, to be the coach, not the runner. Moreover people grow fond of the harvest they grew, and will defend it with a feeling quite different from the evaluation of something easy coming, easy going and not done here. Dont withhold your best secret knowledge. Withholding knowledge is a symptom of little knowledge.

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You can recognise by this defensive attitude the specialist of limited or declining competence. On the contrary, when you share the best of your knowledge for the particular use of a client, you are inevitably the one better prepared to learn even more from it. You are doomed to be always one step ahead. Do not wary of becoming exhausted. Wisdom is a treasury that grows as you give it away. Let go! Your work is to educate, empower and delegate, not to posses, judge and control. At the personal mastery level we can see the excellent consultant as one who has the green finger. I mean by that a style to give life to everything he touches, to water and grow the seed he finds rather than reproducing his own models. This makes people think, participate, realise themselves, and feel enthusiasm. This attitude achieves a transfer of ownership and requires a dash of ego-sacrifice. To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: When a fine consultant accomplished his work, people will say: We did it alone! (Who needed a consultant anyway?).

The tactic of giving a choice

There are two main reasons for using this tactic; the ethical aim of increasing freedom and the prudence of risk sharing. Freedom is the number of choices that you can understand and make (or chose not to make). I believe that the moral aim of a consultant is to create degrees of freedom for a people who saw none or few. This is achieved by designing alternatives out-of-the-box or by pointing at choices.

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On the other hand, since consulting is a game of risk sharing, it is necessary for the professional survival of the adviser and for the sustainable success of the assignment, to share properly the responsibility and the ownership of solutions. Someone who gives one imperative advice may be a manager, a sales agent or an expert. A consultant, unless he becomes a project manager, will choose to help other people understand, decide and achieve. Let me use the metaphor of kangaroo consulting (a big leap forward with an empty pocket) to describe the risky practice that is to give only one best way solutions. Often, the consultant does not have all the information, is not in charge of the decisions to be taken, and does not control the way the advice is applied. He has no budgeted resource to carry on the project. Giving one piece of advice and leaving may lead to an unpleasant later question: Who had this idea anyway? The cost of sale of turnkey advice can be high. A professional way to handle this problem is to present always alternatives of solution, with scenarios clarifying benefits, risks, circumstances, causes and consequences. The consultant should reason in favour of one course of action, but the decision must be knowingly taken by the client or at least shared 50/50 with the client. When your work is well done the clients themselves design a consulting solution, with your contribution and assistance. Another way of resolving the ownership issue well understood by most consulting firms, is to include the implementation project management follow-up in the consulting project.

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The N1 strategy

This is the heart of consulting value. There are many levels of practising this principle. A broad and effective rule to add value as a consultant is to try always to address an issue at the next higher level or at the next deeper level. The simplest way of applying this strategy is an educational method. Teach an individual or groups just that mind-size or N+1 little bit more knowledge and skill, that are sufficient and necessary to answer the current need. This allows the clients to comprehend and learn, instead of getting confused. As one of my colleagues liked to say, when you put cheese into the mouse trap, dont forget to leave room for the mouse. When dealing with Organisations, N+1 means to consider always the larger view, i.e., to seek solutions to a groups concerns at the next higher hierarchical level and so on... ending up to see that the key to a company problem is in the wider system of its market. Much deeper than the tactic of mind-size advice and next higher level problem solving, N1 is a paradigm of strategy concerning the core of the added value of a consulting intervention. The person or group seeking consulting is usually stuck with something. Something is impossible to solve. If it looked possible to them they would not require a consultant. Often, a wrong perspective obscures the way out they believe that they are building a hill when in reality they are only digging a pit. What they need is a fresh eye and an unfettered, creative mind to see a way out of the impossible situation.

Solving impossible problems

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It appears that the successful consultants have a habit of reframing by asking, themselves and other people, N+1 or N-1 questions like: What defines this situation as impossible? For whom? What is so obvious that nobody even dreams of challenging it? Can we alter some factors which make it impossible? Can we redefine the problem? Is it a problem?

Other N+1 or N-1 questions could be: What would happen if we dont do anything? Who decides in fact? Do these people have a way to know what they dont know? Why has this fact, obvious to me, go unnoticed until now? How does the whole thing look at the level of the department? Which part is this in the picture of the whole Organisation? What is the position of the client in his market?... In what business is this client, beyond his vision today?

This N1 strategy has a solid grounding in Goedels theorem: you can test the basic assumptions of a system only outside that system, in a wider one. The practical consequence I draw from this subtle epidemic discovery is that when I need to change a basic assumption that makes a problem, I must (at least mentally) suspend the rule and dig under the system. I have good reason to be optimistic about the practical value of applying this tool. It allowed me to build a strategy session for company executives, that appears to really get people out of the box. Armed with this tool, you cannot work miracles but you know that you will make a difference as an adviser. The N1 strategy is a prime indicator of the consulting competence.

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The rhetoric of action

Expert consulting is a three-legged activity. It needs expertise first. Then the expertise has to be transferred and understood. Third and most important, the transfer must meet its purpose and have impact. Rhetoric is the technique of purposeful impact in communication. Ancient rhetoric was concerned with a speakers art of one way persuasion, aimed at a public deliberating on the past or voting about the future. Aristotle described three conditions of impact - Ethos, Pathos and Logos: credibility of the source, rapport with the listeners and understandable proofs, all ending up in actionable conclusions. The three are situational and personal. But all three can be consciously prepared and built up by concrete attitudes and behaviours that one can learn.


Ethos - who you are for an audience, is determined by: 1. your identity established as a moral, honest, reliable person; 2. your obvious good will towards this person or group; 3. the image you give as a person of common sense and practical wisdom, based on experience with the subject (not a dreamer). If any of the three is not granted by renown or is otherwise questioned, the consultant must do something to build up ethos. Otherwise, explains Aristotle, despite your logic, your authentic competence and your best advice, persuasion does not happen.

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I would describe pathos as being on the same wavelength with your public (otherwise how can you hope that they receive your message?). To accomplish this, you need to do the next three things: 1. Care for their interests, concerns and feelings at the present moment (people do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care). 2. Do concrete actions to relate and to interact with them (like for example take time, listen, observe, ask questions, discuss, and do some shared activity...). 3. You have to address in your speech the concerns and the feelings of the audience, in their own terms. (If you dont do so, you are most probably speaking in the desert).


Logos means here the word not logic. This vector is defined by the clarity of things you say and by the way you defend and illustrate your case. The force of your argument (remember, your aim is decision and action) is increased by following three rules: 1. Use words and models understandable here and now, meanings shared by the audience rather than speaking precise jargon; 2. Give proofs and examples, not general and distant, but concrete, intuitive and of local relevance like in a court of justice. 3. Present conclusions that appear as useful, practical and suggest concrete decision and action. The actions must appear as feasible and match the resources, the time - frame and the action - mood of the listeners. While there is much more to Ancient Rhetoric, enough was said here. I would emulate Aristotles advice with a modern rhetoric of action. A communication tactic adapted to our times goes beyond the effort to influence public decision by means of persuasive speech. A contemporary concern is the involvement of a target audience in the elaboration of a solution and the transfer of solution ownership. By such involvement, the clients decide by themselves and carry out their own plan.

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Let me describe a rhetoric of action as a pull approach to complete the force of persuasive argument: first elicit the clients own perceptions and knowledge, then display, clarify and formulate the common understanding and finally, help the clients to build their done here solution. Most of the successful client-centred consulting methods can be summarised by such scenarios. This method is explained in detail in my favourite workshop the Consulting Masterclass".

An art of change

Consultants are inseparably involved with change in several ways. The profession is perpetually coping with transience, frequent surprise and Newness. Most consulting assignments originate and bring (unexpected and sometimes painful) change to other people. Finally, the expectation is that a consultant will help change to happen by supporting it and by handling some risks. Repeat business for you could be big change for a client. Remember, there are no old jokes; for a new-born, any joke is a world premiere. However, we have to consider that even more often change is a premiere for all the parties involved, including you. This aspect of surprise is the one that requires art. There is no good general procedure for this art. The simple logical reason is that authentic change is about Newness. Things, when they are really new, cannot be defined in advance. I am afraid that formal change management procedure will have to wait, as artificial intelligence is still not here. An art of change is dedicated to managing surprise. I develop this broad subject and the methodologies to use, elsewhere. Let me only shortly mention that managing surprise consists in three strategic ways: preparing against surprise, preparing for surprise and preparing the surprise.

Against Surprise

Consulting Difference


Preparing against surprise is an effort to analyse the laws of reality and of adapting to them. The art of change is then, in a nutshell, the ability to learn from our own and other peoples past errors and experiences, and to help our clients not to repeat those same errors. This is the dominant practice. Setting objectives, strategies and alternative tactics for change helps us deciding where we want to go and planning how to get there. But freezing forecasts or scenarios as plans, rules and procedures about what must be done, as if things had to happen in a prescribed way, may be more dangerous than useful. Consulting engagements can be seen as projects but their specific features are to be non-recurring, non-routine and loosely structured. Rigid instructions about how to deal with surprise or how to implement change are as clumsy as positional bargaining. The mistake is to first set a bottom line, next to dig oneself into a fixed position and then, finally to lose face when forced to cope with reality. This cannot be a good model for consulting. I like to call this fallacy the planagement of change. Most of the future can not be planned. The most important consequence to the unplannable Newness assumption is that the ultimate instruments in change management are the consultant and his clients as persons armed with live intelligence and prepared for surprise. From the mid-eighties I dedicated a Masterclass of change management to the crash development of the ability to prepare for surprise for corporate teams engaged in major business transformation. The high-value knowledge worker relies on an intuitive and metaphorical database of personal knowledge. The cost of complexity analysis, and of the formal description needed to package consulting applications or change management solutions is very high. It may be much higher than breeding individual consultants as sages and training them (and their client organisations) to cope with the unknown and the inevitable surprises.

Consulting Difference


For Surprise

It is probably more effective to educate ourselves for surprise with state-of-the-art models, ideas, broad general culture, tools and experiences on how to deal with surprise than to project-plan the future. In complex situations, effective judgement and action are personal. The more an environment is ill structured and unpredictable, the more the tool is the Consultant. I dont argue against packaged consultancy, nor against consulting process descriptions and quality standards to be used by apprentice - consultants; the how to models are vital to teach consulting competencies to thousands of specialists. They are also effective in marketing a quality service and a house style for a consulting firm. Moreover a package has the important feature of being a saleablelabelled activity. Commercial firms need more of them. But high-end consultancy, more user-centred and executive - centred than readymade, is like Culture; it is what remains after you forgot everything you ever learned in school. There is yet another handicap of change recipes. When the conditions change, the persistence of solutions that were successful in the past becomes a main reason for failure. This Lamarckian error is apparent in natural history, in organisational development and in society. Fast unlearning and a general education rather than a specific training, form the competitive advantage of a change - friendly consultant. This is true both for the content expertise and for the consulting skills. Therefore, it is reasonable to learn about change as an art. The talent is born but the craft is learnt through general culture and through personal experience. Change - wisdom can also be learnt by observing and by imitating masters who possess long time experience in their evolving field. Such people can share, if they please, their sense of timing and their treasury of personal knowledge. An experienced mentor can share informal wisdom about what is good to do and what is better not to do.

Consulting Difference


An example can show which style or stratagem is applicable when you are confronted with a particular opportunity or even when you meet the unexpected. Mentoring is an approach to educating for change, stronger than any formal instruction (provided that the mentor himself has a rich experience with change). As a complement to experience on-the-job and to Mentoring, it is possible to scaffold the acquisition of change management competency by structured forms of experience transfer (e.g., simulations that induce discovery and learning on safe ground). There is no unchanging recipe for applied change-management and, without experiences both with success and with failure, relevant experience can be hard to learn. The third and most proactive option of change management is to prepare the surprise itself. Why always wait for surprise to come from somewhere else? I believe that this is the essence of strategy; attempting to change the course of change by inventing new, unexpected ways of doing things and new things altogether. This leads us back to the notion of N1. Everybody agrees that we need to practice novel thinking and initiative out of the box. The question is how to do it. My proposal is in short that there are two practical ways to advance. One is to find out the limits of what we know, to learn about what we dont know and to systematically trespass into the unknown and the impossible. The other one, or better said the other face of the same effort is to examine the obvious, our own most basic assumptions and challenge them. Instead of a conclusion; there is no end to a consultants apprenticeship The consultants content expertise and some of his know-how are highly perishable. They keep their value as long as they remain stateof-the-art.

The Surprise

Trespass into the unknown, challenge the obvious

Consulting Difference


The comparison may seem cruel but I think that as a top professional, the consultant has a feature in common with a shark; the day he stops swimming, he will sink and drawn. If there is a stable core to the competency making a consultant different, it can only be rate of unlearning and growth. Learning to forget All people accumulate knowledge and acquire behaviour patterns. But not everybody is so compelled to sense which part of the authoritative knowledge we acquired, which current beliefs, which skills, successful yesterday and still respectable today, which ways currently followed by everybody, are becoming obsolete and will soon be counter productive. To survive the burn out and to prosper, the consultant must have this kind of intuition and autonomy. In my own experience as a psychologist, the most important things I believe I learnt, in many years, were how to select early from a flood of confusing knowledge how to doubt my own successful recipes and how to forget fast. I observe this attitude in some of the top consultants who taught me about the profession. I would call this a purposeful cultivation of boredom and of curiosity. At least one third of the working time of a mature consultant has to be dedicated to recharging batteries and to further education. This means updating of content expertise, source building (Its not what you know, but knowing where to find it when you need it), learning to do new things, general culture, design and testing of new methods. And more, much more than this, if you want to really learn something, teach it generously. Wisdom is a treasury that grows as you give it away.

Consulting Difference


ARISTOTLE, The Art of Rhetoric, Harvard University Press.., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1975 BARCUS, S. W., WILKINSON, J.W., Handbook of Management Consulting Services, McGraw-Hill, New York. 1986 BELL, C.R., NADLER, L., Clients & Consultants, Gulf Publishing Co., Houston.., 1985 BELLMAN, G., M., The Consultants Calling, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.., 1990 BENNIS, W.G., BENNE, K.D., CHIN, R., COREY, K.E., The Planning of Change, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. 1976 BLAIR, A., J., JOHNSON, R., H., (Ed), Informal Logic-The First National Symposium, Edgepress, Inverness California, 1980 BLOCK, P., Flawless Consulting - A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, Learning Concepts, Austin, 1978 BUDMAN, S., H., Forms of Brief Therapy The Guilford Press, New York.. 1981 CICERO, Ad C. Herennium, Harvard University Press.., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981 CONNOR, R., A., DAVIDSON, J., P., Marketing Your Consulting and Professional Services, John Wiley & Sons, New York. 1985 CONNOR, R.,A., DAVIDSON,J.,P., Getting new Clients, John Wiley & Sons, New York.., 1987 COTTLE, D., Client- Centred Service, John Wiley & Sons, New York.., 1990 DILTHEY, W., Introduction a lEtude des Sciences Humaines, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1942 EASTON, T., A., CONANT, R., W., Using Consultants. A Consumers Guide for Managers, Probus Publishing Co., Chicago, 1985 FEYERABEND, P., Against Method. Radner/Winokur, n.p., 1970 GREINER, L.E., METZGER, R.O., Consulting to Management, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1983 HANSEN, J.C., WARNER, R.W., SMITH, E.J., Group Consulting - Theory and Process, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 1980

Consulting Difference


HEBSON, R., Become a Successful Consultant, Foulsham, London.., 1989 HOFSTADTER, D., R., Godel, Esher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Vintage Books, New York, 1980 HOLTZ, H., The Consultants Guide to Proposal Writing, John Wiley & Sons, New York.., 1986 HUBERMAN, A.M., MILES, M. B., Innovation up Close, Plenum Press, New York.., 1984 HUNT, A., The Management Consultant, John Wiley & Sons, New York.., 1977 JONES, K., Simulations - a Handbook for Teachers and Trainers, Kogan Page Ltd, London, 1987 KIRCHER, F.,(trad.), Les 36 Stratagemes - Traite secret de strategie chinoise, J.C.Lattes, n.p., 1991 Kolb, D., Frohman, A., 1970, An Organisation Development Approach to Consulting. Sloan Management Review 12(1): 51-65. KUBR, M., Management Consulting - A Guide to the Profession, International Labour Office, Geneva, 1986 LAO TZU, Tao Te Ching, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1987 LAO-TSEU, TCHOUANG-TSEU, LIE-TSEU, Philosophes Taoistes, Pleiade NRF Gallimard, s.p., 1980 LIPPITT, G., LIPPITT, R., The Consulting Process in Action, University Associates Inc., San Diego, 1978 MARGERISON, C., Influencing Organizational Change, Institute of Personnel Management, Wimbledon, 1982 MARKHAM, C., Practical Management Consulting, The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Whales, London, 1991 [ISBN 1 85355 1902] MARSCH, S., C., (Ed), Management Consulting 1991-1992, Harvard Business School Press, n.p., 1990 MATSUMOTO, M., The Unspoken Way - Haragei: Silence in Japanese Business and Society, Kodansha International, Tokyo. 1988 METZGER, R., O., Profitable Consulting, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. Reading Massachusetts.., 1989 MITROFF, I., I., KILMANN, R., H., Methodological Approaches to Social Science, JosseyBass Publishers, San Francisco. 1978 PATTON, M., Q., Qualitative Evaluation Methods, Sage, Beverly Hills, 1980 PLATON, Oeuvres completes vol I, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade NRF Gallimard, s.p. 1989

Consulting Difference


PLATON, Oeuvres completes vol II, Bibl. de la Pleiade NRF Gallimard, s.p. 1990 POLANYI, M., Personal Knowledge, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1958 RASSAM, C., OATES,D., Management Consultancy: The Inside Story, Mercury Books, London, 1991 REASON, P., ROWAN, J.,(Ed), Human Inquiry, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.., 1981 ROGERS, C., R., Client-Centred Therapy.. Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1951 ROGERS, C., R., On becoming a person, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1961 SCHEIN, E.H., Process Consultation: Its Role in Organization Development, Addison-Wesley Publ. Co., Reading.., 1969 SCHEIN, E.H., Process Consultation Volume II - Lessons for Managers and Consultants, Addison-Wesley Publ. Co., Reading.., 1987 STEELE, F., The Role of the Internal Consultant - Effective Role-Shaping for Staff Positions, CBI Publ. Co., Boston.., 1982 SUN TZU, The Art of war, Oxford University Press, London.., 1971 SVEIBY, K.E., LLOYD, T., Managing Know-how - Add value... by Valuing Creativity, Bloomsbury Publ. Ltd, London, 1987 TENNER, I., The Art of the General, Geneva, 1997 TEPPER, R., Consultants Problem-Solving Workbook, John Wiley & Sons, New York.., 1987

Consulting Difference


A short account of the research and the methods used

The experience I used to build my normative model of consulting is cross-disciplinary. I try here to make simple some thirty years of study and practice in social sciences, media communication, teaching and management consulting. The actual "Consulting Difference" research represents five years of observation, interviews documentary study, and teaching (when you want to know something, try to change it or to teach it). The people I learned about were, during years of growth and success, Digital Equipment Corporations Consultants across the world; Switzerland, UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Israel, also in U.S., Hong Kong and Japan. There are two Japanese translations of The Consulting Difference available for those interested, thanks to my former colleagues Tamotsu Wada (1989) and Takeshi Muto (1993). Between 1985 and 1995 my work was to create and manage a curriculum to develop Digital Equipment Europes more than 1000 European consultants. The size of the first sample was 300, (almost equal to Digitals total European Consultants population at the beginning of the inquiry in 1986). The research method was qualitative analysis of individual and group interviews, also my analysis and interpretation of observed behaviour in 170 video-recorded critical situation role-plays and in 52 complex inter-group simulations. Inspired by action research and by grounded qualitative methodology, the interpretations I made were fed back repeatedly to the Consulting community that generated the material (in the end, more than 700 people). Version after version, the paper improved through the critiques and clarifications of meaning received from my consulting community. The first final edition was published in 1989.

Based on it I prepared a half-day teaching presentation for consultants, consultants managers, consulting firms and corporate clients of consulting. This simple presentation was curiously successful. Its latest avatar, a workshop-presentation illustrating this material is currently available.

Consulting Difference


Over the years I presented the Consulting Difference variants more than a hundred times and elaborated on the subject with many more consultants and executives in several countries and companies. Consulting with major firms like C. S. C. Index and A. T. Kearney between 1992 and 1997 also had a strong influence on my understanding. This interaction insured a sanity check and a way to enrich my interpretation of common sense data referred to in the initial study. I must say that this paper is now concerned with the search for wisdom and practical solutions, and not with the scientific research of regularities. What I learned from readings in Consulting, Psychology, Social Sciences, Education, Ancient and Modern Rhetoric, Aristotle, Socrates, Esop, Lao Tze, Kahlil Gibran, Zen, and Sufi Eastern lore, what I understood from helping other people to understand things alien to them, brought to this essay at least as much as observation and interviewing. And so did the years of practice with the Management Consulting Firms.

Consulting Difference



The subjects presented in the "Consulting Difference" essay are applied and developed in a concrete form by a number of education and change management events. Here are two of them:

1. The Consulting Difference teaching-presentation - An interactive presentation and discussion (2-4 hours)
This is a 2 -3 hours event presented to management teams who want to make best use of consultants or to develop consultants in their own company. It also supports the start-up of a new business improvement project where the organisation will work together with a team of consultants and where it is useful to clarify the roles and to vent and resolve typical concerns towards being involved with consultants. In this latter case it is very useful to organise the event for the internal project team and the external consultants together.

2. The Consulting Difference Workshop - An intensive course in consulting development and change management skills (4 1/2 - 3 1/2 days, residential, for 15-25 people)
The Consulting Difference Workshop is an advanced development programme in communication, change management and leadership skills for management consultants and senior managers engaged in corporate business change projects. Under the name Consulting Masterclass and Change Management Masterclass, this workshop has a twelve years record of success with national and multinational companies in Europe, Asia, Australia, South Africa and the U.S.A. It was used by companies like DEC, C. S. C. Index, Ciba, Rolls Royce and A. T. Kearney/EDS to develop their own management consultants and to help their clients manage large business transformation assignments.

Consulting Difference


Objectives: The objective of the workshop is to develop high level consulting competence and to initiate unique thinking, collaboration and communication style. Beyond skills, this programme develops shared culture and goals; creative vision, strategy and tactics to be directly used by teams of consultants, managers or experts engaged in major change. This is achieved by building the individual consultants and the consulting/change management teams capabilities to work together, and to involve whole organisations. The workshop thrives to adapt its content, focus and form, to fit the specific change management context and current priorities of each team. The workshop is prepared by needs-analysis interviews and design customisation. After the workshop the team and its management retain tools and, when needed, action items to support change management. Intended audience: senior experts/consultants and senior managers involved in business change and improvement, joint teams of external consultants and internal project teams. The Consulting Difference Workshop, will provide the following benefits: Visibly increase the ability and the confidence of the participants to develop their own out of the box solutions and tactics in dealing with their work. Develop the ability to take ownership and further transfer ownership of business solutions. Advance the participants towards becoming a cross-functional leadership team. Foster trust, rationality and openness in the relationships within the team and the organisation at large. The workshop activities create a positive team climate of can do in dealing with change management objectives and issues. Prepare the team to optimally deal with potential critical situations in large transformation projects and changing environments where different organisational and national cultures meet. Increase the effectiveness and the quality of individual, group and company communication. Build a base of consistent shared meaning and common goals to connect a culture of high expertise with a culture of tangible business results.

Consulting Difference


Personal and team benefits of the participants: As an outcome of the programme the participants will have: refreshed and enriched their personal tool kit and their team practice, with many tactics of communication and facilitation. learned alternatives of consultancy models, strategies and tactics. acquired a number of creative strategies for solving impossible problems. considered the implications of organisational cultures in their current work. exchanged, compared and tested their experiences and ideas with their colleagues. observed or role played some critical situations of organisational change related to their own experience or projects. experienced several levels of complexity and surprise in a co-operation and competition situation shared as much applied social science and multi-cultural change wisdom as possible within four and half days and accumulated a harvest of useful, practical ideas. lived an exciting, refreshing learning experience that makes the team feel re-charged and motivated to work together.

Key topics: 1. Communication tactics: models, tools of individual, group and organisation communication and expertise transfer, presented and discussed within the frame of ancient and modern rhetoric. The core competencies of making an impact by means of leadership and advice, illustrated with tools to use and rules of thumb. 2. Organisational cultures: the implications of cultural features in establishing a successful game plan of enterprise transformation. 3. Critical situations in consulting and change: role plays of typical situations - preparing against and for surprise. 4. Dealing with transience: meanings of change, steps, strategies and rules of thumb in coping with it, introducing change and helping change to succeed. 5. Strategic creativity: ways to manage the unknown, to create strategic newness, deal with impossible situations, and communicate new understanding. 6. Knowing, influencing and leading people: knowing oneself and others (self-analysis grid), personal styles and responses, groups styles, appreciating and addressing motivation levels with impact. 7. The workings of groups and the facilitation designs: working with new groups, influencing intra-group and inter-group processes - the main models.

Consulting Difference


9. Co-operation and competition: simulation of a complex process of co-operation and competition - a synthesis of the programme. During the workshop there will be several sessions of syndicate work. Often we can apply the strategies and the skills to the specific issues of current work: Effective Communication with the target groups, communication across organisational boundaries, creative strategy and tactics in change management, preparing against (and for) critical situations in implementing specific projects, dealing with transition and many others.. Ioan Tenner Ph.D. Tel/Fax/Answering: Geneva, CH [+4122] 772 02 92 France [+33] 3 8444 0937 Mobile:[+41] (0) 78 7111 408 E-mail: Net site:

Consulting Difference