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Thus, a useful consulting process involves working with the problem as defined by the client in such a way that more useful definitions emerge naturally as the engagement proceeds. Nevertheless, the process by which an accurate diagnosis is formed sometimes strains the consultant-client relationship, since managers are often fearful of uncovering difficult situations for which they might be blamed. Competent diagnosis requires more than an examination of the external environment, the technology and economics of the business, and the behavior of nonmanagerial members of the organization.

The consultant must also ask why executives made certain choices that now appear to be mistakes or ignored certain factors that now seem important. Although the need for independent diagnosis is often cited as a reason for using outsiders, drawing members of the client organization into the diagnostic process makes good sense.

They, not us, must do the detail work. While this is going on, we talk with the CEO every day for an hour or two about the issues that are surfacing, and we meet with the chairman once a week. We get some sense of the skills of the key people—what they can do and how they work. When we emerge with strategic and organizational recommendations, they are usually well accepted because they have been thoroughly tested. Top firms, therefore, establish such mechanisms as joint consultant-client task forces to work on data analysis and other parts of the diagnostic process. As the process continues, managers naturally begin to implement corrective action without having to wait for formal recommendations.

The engagement characteristically concludes with a written report or oral presentation that summarizes what the consultant has learned and that recommends in some detail what the client should do. Firms devote a great deal of effort to designing their reports so that the information and analysis are clearly presented and the recommendations are convincingly related to the diagnosis on which they are based.

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Many people would probably say that the purpose of the engagement is fulfilled when the professional presents a consistent, logical action plan of steps designed to improve the diagnosed problem. The consultant recommends, and the client decides whether and how to implement. Though it may sound like a sensible division of labor, this setup is in many ways simplistic and unsatisfactory.

For example, a nationalized public utility in a developing country struggled for years to improve efficiency through tighter financial control of decentralized operations. According to the CEO, this advice ignored big stumbling blocks—civil service regulations, employment conditions, and relations with state and local governments. This sort of thing happens more often than management consultants like to admit, and not only in developing countries. In cases like these, each side blames the other. And consultants frequently blame clients for not having enough sense to do what is obviously needed.

Unfortunately, this thinking may lead the client to look for yet another candidate to play the game with one more time. In the most successful relationships, there is not a rigid distinction between roles; formal recommendations should contain no surprises if the client helps develop them and the consultant is concerned with their implementation. A consultant will often ask for a second engagement to help install a recommended new system. However, if the process to this point has not been collaborative, the client may reject a request to assist with implementation simply because it represents such a sudden shift in the nature of the relationship.

Effective work on implementation problems requires a level of trust and cooperation that is developed gradually throughout the engagement. In any successful engagement, the consultant continually strives to understand which actions, if recommended, are likely to be implemented and where people are prepared to do things differently.

Recommendations may be confined to those steps the consultant believes will be implemented well. Some may think such sensitivity amounts to telling a client only what he wants to hear. Indeed, a frequent dilemma for experienced consultants is whether they should recommend what they know is right or what they know will be accepted. When a client requests information, the consultant asks how it will be used and what steps have already been taken to acquire it. Then he or she, along with members of the client organization, determines which steps the company is ready to pursue and how to launch further actions.

An adviser continually builds support for the implementation phase by asking questions focused on action, repeatedly discussing progress made, and including organization members on the team. It follows that managers should be willing to experiment with new procedures during the course of an engagement—and not wait until the end of the project before beginning to implement change. When innovations prove successful, they are institutionalized more effectively than when simply recommended without some demonstration of their value.

For implementation to be truly effective, readiness and commitment to change must be developed, and client members must learn new ways of solving problems to improve organizational performance.

OUR UNIQUE APPROACH

How well these goals are achieved depends on how well both parties understand and manage the process of the entire engagement. People are much more likely to use and institutionalize innovations proved successful than recommendations merely set forth on paper. All in all, effective implementation requires consensus, commitment, and new problem-solving techniques and management methods.

To provide sound and convincing recommendations, a consultant must be persuasive and have finely tuned analytic skills. But more important is the ability to design and conduct a process for 1 building an agreement about what steps are necessary and 2 establishing the momentum to see these steps through.


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An observation by one consultant summarizes this well. But that is the tip of the iceberg. What supports that is establishing enough agreement within the organization that the action makes sense—in other words, not only getting the client to move, but getting enough support so that the movement will be successful. To do that, a consultant needs superb problem-solving techniques and the ability to persuade the client through the logic of his analysis.

In addition, enough key players must be on board, each with a stake in the solution, so that it will succeed. So the consultant needs to develop a process through which he can identify whom it is important to involve and how to interest them. Managers should not necessarily expect their advisers to ask these questions. But they should expect that consultants will be concerned with issues of this kind during each phase of the engagement.

In addition to increasing commitment through client involvement during each phase, the consultant may kindle enthusiasm with the help of an ally from the organization not necessarily the person most responsible for the engagement.

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The role is similar to that of informant-collaborator in field research in cultural anthropology, and it is often most successful when not explicitly sought. If conducted skillfully, interviews to gather information can at the same time build trust and readiness to accept the need for change throughout the organization. Then members at all levels of the organization come to see the project as helpful, not as unwanted inquisition.

By locating potential resistance or acceptance, the interviews help the consultant learn which corrective actions will work and almost always reveal more sound solutions and more willingness to confront difficulty than upper management had expected. Thus, a useful consulting process involves working with the problem as defined by the client in such a way that more useful definitions emerge naturally as the engagement proceeds.

Nevertheless, the process by which an accurate diagnosis is formed sometimes strains the consultant-client relationship, since managers are often fearful of uncovering difficult situations for which they might be blamed. Competent diagnosis requires more than an examination of the external environment, the technology and economics of the business, and the behavior of nonmanagerial members of the organization. The consultant must also ask why executives made certain choices that now appear to be mistakes or ignored certain factors that now seem important.

Although the need for independent diagnosis is often cited as a reason for using outsiders, drawing members of the client organization into the diagnostic process makes good sense.

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They, not us, must do the detail work. While this is going on, we talk with the CEO every day for an hour or two about the issues that are surfacing, and we meet with the chairman once a week. We get some sense of the skills of the key people—what they can do and how they work.

When we emerge with strategic and organizational recommendations, they are usually well accepted because they have been thoroughly tested. Top firms, therefore, establish such mechanisms as joint consultant-client task forces to work on data analysis and other parts of the diagnostic process. As the process continues, managers naturally begin to implement corrective action without having to wait for formal recommendations.

The engagement characteristically concludes with a written report or oral presentation that summarizes what the consultant has learned and that recommends in some detail what the client should do. Firms devote a great deal of effort to designing their reports so that the information and analysis are clearly presented and the recommendations are convincingly related to the diagnosis on which they are based.

Many people would probably say that the purpose of the engagement is fulfilled when the professional presents a consistent, logical action plan of steps designed to improve the diagnosed problem. The consultant recommends, and the client decides whether and how to implement.

Though it may sound like a sensible division of labor, this setup is in many ways simplistic and unsatisfactory. For example, a nationalized public utility in a developing country struggled for years to improve efficiency through tighter financial control of decentralized operations. According to the CEO, this advice ignored big stumbling blocks—civil service regulations, employment conditions, and relations with state and local governments.

This sort of thing happens more often than management consultants like to admit, and not only in developing countries. In cases like these, each side blames the other. And consultants frequently blame clients for not having enough sense to do what is obviously needed. Unfortunately, this thinking may lead the client to look for yet another candidate to play the game with one more time. In the most successful relationships, there is not a rigid distinction between roles; formal recommendations should contain no surprises if the client helps develop them and the consultant is concerned with their implementation.

A consultant will often ask for a second engagement to help install a recommended new system. However, if the process to this point has not been collaborative, the client may reject a request to assist with implementation simply because it represents such a sudden shift in the nature of the relationship. Effective work on implementation problems requires a level of trust and cooperation that is developed gradually throughout the engagement.

In any successful engagement, the consultant continually strives to understand which actions, if recommended, are likely to be implemented and where people are prepared to do things differently. Recommendations may be confined to those steps the consultant believes will be implemented well. Some may think such sensitivity amounts to telling a client only what he wants to hear.

Indeed, a frequent dilemma for experienced consultants is whether they should recommend what they know is right or what they know will be accepted. When a client requests information, the consultant asks how it will be used and what steps have already been taken to acquire it. Then he or she, along with members of the client organization, determines which steps the company is ready to pursue and how to launch further actions. An adviser continually builds support for the implementation phase by asking questions focused on action, repeatedly discussing progress made, and including organization members on the team.

It follows that managers should be willing to experiment with new procedures during the course of an engagement—and not wait until the end of the project before beginning to implement change. When innovations prove successful, they are institutionalized more effectively than when simply recommended without some demonstration of their value. For implementation to be truly effective, readiness and commitment to change must be developed, and client members must learn new ways of solving problems to improve organizational performance. How well these goals are achieved depends on how well both parties understand and manage the process of the entire engagement.

People are much more likely to use and institutionalize innovations proved successful than recommendations merely set forth on paper. All in all, effective implementation requires consensus, commitment, and new problem-solving techniques and management methods. To provide sound and convincing recommendations, a consultant must be persuasive and have finely tuned analytic skills.

But more important is the ability to design and conduct a process for 1 building an agreement about what steps are necessary and 2 establishing the momentum to see these steps through. An observation by one consultant summarizes this well. But that is the tip of the iceberg.

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What supports that is establishing enough agreement within the organization that the action makes sense—in other words, not only getting the client to move, but getting enough support so that the movement will be successful. To do that, a consultant needs superb problem-solving techniques and the ability to persuade the client through the logic of his analysis. In addition, enough key players must be on board, each with a stake in the solution, so that it will succeed. So the consultant needs to develop a process through which he can identify whom it is important to involve and how to interest them.

Managers should not necessarily expect their advisers to ask these questions. But they should expect that consultants will be concerned with issues of this kind during each phase of the engagement.

Secret of the World’s Most Successful Consultants

In addition to increasing commitment through client involvement during each phase, the consultant may kindle enthusiasm with the help of an ally from the organization not necessarily the person most responsible for the engagement. The role is similar to that of informant-collaborator in field research in cultural anthropology, and it is often most successful when not explicitly sought. If conducted skillfully, interviews to gather information can at the same time build trust and readiness to accept the need for change throughout the organization.

Then members at all levels of the organization come to see the project as helpful, not as unwanted inquisition. By locating potential resistance or acceptance, the interviews help the consultant learn which corrective actions will work and almost always reveal more sound solutions and more willingness to confront difficulty than upper management had expected. Our deep capabilities in strategy, organization, process, analytics, user experience, and technology help our clients improve their performance.

We provide expert, objective advice to help solve complex business and technology challenges. We believe it's our job to help our friends. This includes our clients, our colleagues, and people in our community. Marleta Hansen and Jason Goth share personal stories about life before Credera and why Credera has been the best choice for them. We invest time, talent, and resources into people and programs where we live and throughout the world. We work side by side with clients to support the changes required in strategy, organization, process, analytics, user experience, and technology to make transformation a reality.

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