Sep 20, 2007

On Consulting and Humility

Nimmy wonders:

Consulting is all about asking the right questions and then listening carefully to the explicit and 'unstated' responses....including the body language and underlying people dynamics. To ask the right questions requires deep thought and reflection and a good understanding of fundamental concepts. Listening requires patience, humility and the like. Then isn't it surprising that one finds so much arrogance in the field?!

Well it is not so surprising, because a lot of activities that get carried out in the name of consulting does not fall in the domain of facilitative consulting.

Take the case of a client of mine who gives me a pre-prepared training material content and tells me that I have to deliver that training program for his employees. I am acting as a facilitative consultant in that relationship? Not really. I am, as OD consultant Peter Block says in his book Flawless Consulting, a pair of hands.

Or take another example... a client approaches me to carry out a survey of employee grievance management processes in a particular industry and to suggest what his organization should do. This is also not a true facilitative consulting process. Here I act as a "expertise" consultant and really am not bothered what the client does with my recommendation after I leave the scene.

The arrogance that Nimmy is thinking about is displayed by consultants when they operate in the above two modes - of expertise and of being a pair of hands. Clients go for such consultants when the skill does not exist in the organization and there is no business case for having it in the organization after the activity gets over.

So what is facilitative consulting?

Facilitative consulting is the process of consulting that results in an increase of the capability of the client after the consulting engagement is over. In this work the client does "the work" and the work of the consultant is to focus on the process of the work.

Yes it is possible for the expertise and the pair of hands consultants to also work facilitatively but the desire for further billing and having clients depend on them takes over any such altruistic thoughts.

As the Organization Development blog states:

Instead of one smart consultant figuring everything out, a group of clients who do the work on a daily basis--and have a stake in improving it--bring together their knowledge, experience, and motivation to assess current ways of operating, consider current obstacles to achieving intended goals, analyze underlying systemic causes for the difficulties, generate and assess options for improvement, and take responsibility for planning and implementing those changes. And the OD consultant? S/he makes it easier for them to do all this together, by creating and managing a forum for these conversations, and providing relevant questions for the group and its manager to consider as they proceed through this self-managed process-improvement work.

We facilitate--make communication easier for others. But that doesn't mean what we do is easy. It takes a special expertise to focus on implicit aspects of a discussion; an ability to invite shared inquiry into the usually unspoken assumptions about clients' work together; a willingness to control the process of discussion while giving control of the content or substance to members of the organization, who after all have a stake in making their own work more satisfying and effective.