Clients and consultants sometimes encounter difficulties when they don’t share a common understanding of how to improve a situation. They may not have a clear handle on the goals. The client might have a better understanding of their business than the consultant, while the consultant might see an opportunity the client hasn’t noticed. But if you don’t reach a common understanding of what you’re working toward, you and your client will find it challenging to get things done. In partnership with your client, it’s important to reach agreement on what you’re trying to achieve so that you can develop plans, provide support, and make sure you’re not working at cross-purposes.
Having a vision of the future is required for any improvement effort. But future vision is sometimes harder for a client to articulate than current reality. A key role for consultants is getting clients to articulate their beliefs, feelings, and wishes. Then together you and your client can compare the current reality with the future vision and reach agreement on clear improvement goals.
As you work with your client, it’s helpful to assess where you’re at in this process of reaching agreement. Here are the questions you should ask yourself:
- Do you clearly understand what the client believes about the current situation, particularly those things they wish to change?
- Have you gathered sufficient information to enable you to come to your own conclusions about the present situation?
- Do you understand clearly what your client wishes to be changed in the future?
- Do you understand the feelings and beliefs that support these wishes?
- Are you clear about the timeframe within which the client expects to achieve these wishes?
- Have these wishes been articulated as concrete goals?
- Do you understand clearly the degree to which you agree with the appropriateness of these goals?
- Where you disagree with your client, do you understand the feelings and beliefs that support your view?
- Have you discussed your differences of opinion so that you each have a clear understanding of the differences and the feelings and beliefs underlying these differences?
- Have you identified sufficient common ground between both of your perspectives so you may meaningfully support the client?
- Have you identified areas of differences that you each are willing to continue to explore?
- Is your client convinced that they have your respect even though you disagree on some things?
- Have you and your client made a specific commitment to achieve concretely-defined goals within a specified timeframe?
In order to reach agreement with your client, you must be clear about your perspectives on both the present and the future. Understanding the feeling, beliefs, and wishes that you and your client share, and where they differ, is critical for establishing common ground and mutual goals so that you and your client can work together more effectively.