Consultants work with their clients to provide advice and support. Whether it’s just a short-term project or a consulting engagement lasting over many years, the best consultants know how to add value to the client relationship. They understand that the quality of the client relationship is at the heart of successful consulting.
As a consultant, you can add value and support the client relationship by:
Helping your client make fact-based decisions, paving the way for improvement: Consultants play a vital role in guiding their clients to make decisions that improve a situation. Your job as a consultant is to help your client make better decisions, often by helping the client identify information that leads to an informed decision.
Helping your client anticipate problems before they occur: Many efforts to change or improve a situation are subject to the same set of common problems, such as lack of planning. Helping clients anticipate problems in advance is an important value-added to the client relationship.
Communicating in a constructive manner: Many consultants only think about their relationship with their clients after a significant problem has erupted. Consultants might be distracted by short-term pressures, or by concrete aspects of the job that are easier to think about than communication. An effective consultant knows how to make honest communication a priority.
As you work with your client on a change or improvement, assess how well you’re supporting the client by asking yourself these questions:
- Have you analyzed plans for the change or improvement from the perspective of things that could go wrong?
- Do plans continue to improve, even as they’re being implemented?
- Have key assumptions been identified, questioned, validated?
- Have you prepared for potential unanticipated changes in the environment and/or industry?
- Have all processes been thought through step-by-step, from beginning to end?
- Have communications remained open among all who are expected to participate in this change or improvement?
- Have you thought carefully about unanticipated impacts of this endeavor, both positive and negative?
- Do you have a clear plan for collecting and analyzing information to support decisions related to this change?
- Have alternatives related to the change been identified, as well as questions to be answered to inform decisions about the alternatives?
- Have information-collection strategies and sources been identified to answer these questions effectively and efficiently?
- Are decisions supported by objective analysis of factual information?
- Are you able to have positive, constructive conversations in which your advice is seriously considered by the client?
- Are all forms of communication carried out in a positive, improvement-oriented manner?
- Are you and the client learning from each other?
These questions can help you evaluate aspects of the client relationship that might need extra effort or attention. They can serve as a checklist to help you decide what your next steps might be. You might, for example, decide that information-gathering needs additional work to help your client make better decisions. By looking at the big picture, you can assess where you stand with the client and what approach you might want to take as you move forward with the client-consultant relationship.