How to be a good consultant | Pepper Press

By: Pepper Press  11-11-2011

Written by erichv on 26 July 2010

Notes from Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting morning

We live and operate in a patriarchal society.

The most important thing is control, consistency and predicatility. If you ask somebody if they would rather have control or results, they opt for control, every time a coconut.

Control, as Block puts it, is the “coin of the realm.” And yet, we consultants have no control. We are trying to deliver results without any direct control.

Not only that, but consultants don’t actually want control. It is tempting sometimes to want more control, but if we take it on, we are simply becoming surrogate managers for the duration of the intervention.

Which is very paternalistic

Listen to this language:

“I grow people”. I’m proud of “my” people. This is my team. We use the possessive. This is my yard, these are my things, these my people. It’s so patriarchal.

HR was invented to manage the fall-out from the paternal system: “We own you,” says the system. “and we’ll take care of you,” says HR.

How to have power in this un-human system

The best way of having power in this system is to show up with your humanity. Being relationship-focused is powerful. It’s counter-cultural, but not in a confrontational way. More in a “swimming upstream” kind of way.

The more authentic you are, the more power you have.

How to be authentic

The way to be authentic is to put into words what you are experiencing.

In the new version of Flawless Consulting there’s a chapter about healthcare and education. Here are two industries who are trying to make a difference, but nobody has any power. Everybody just feels helpless.

The presenting problem isn’t very useful

The client will come to you with a “presenting problem”. It’s never useful. Our job as consultants is to redefine the issue in a more actionable way. Clients say: “How do I get the people on board?” and the answer is: “what makes you think you’re in the boat?”

The problem is often presented as “other people.” And we as consultants can’t collude with that.

The consulting process

You’ve got to do these steps in order. Discovery without a contract is espionage! Feedback without discovery is guesswork.

If I do good contracting, good discovery and good reporting / feedback, then I’m doing good consulting — even if nothing happens after that! We can’t measure ourselves on results

We can’t measure ourselves on results

If we measure ourselves on results we are being surrogate managers. And managers sometimes have deep-seated reasons not to deliver results.

All clients want magicians, not consultants

You’ve got to do these steps in order. Discovery without a contract is espionage! Feedback without discovery is guesswork.

The business is easy to do. It’s managing the people to get results that’s the hard bit.

The way to find out how people manage each other is to notice how they manage you.

Stand up from your bent-over position

The trick behind consulting is to find a way of engaging with other people in an adult way, in a deeply parent-child world.

The client has as much power as you give the client.

Don’t let the client treat you as a “pair of hands”

Also, you are not the expert. You are a partner.

The purpose of discovery

Is to re-frame the problem in a more actionable way. Most people don’t see their own role in the problem that arises and is sustained.

The hardest thing to do is to give feedback in the language of the culture you’re dealing with.

Contracting is naming mixed feelings

Personal acknowledgement

How do you feel about me working with you on this?

What doubts do you have?

And the client says: “let’s get on with it.”

Well, this is “on with it.” Unless we name the doubts now, they will come back and bite us on the bum later.

Here’s how I feel about working with you

This allows a space for doubts to arise. Contracting is about naming the doubt and the enthusiasm for working together.

Make space for the enthusiasm as well. Say “thank you”.

Probe without an agenda

Tell me what you’re up against — re-frame it – give it back – then I can get it.

Every problem has a human dimension. Don’t be helpful at this point. it’s not useful. If you want to be helpful, go to the rest-room and breathe out all your advice into the mirror.

When I say: “what are you up against?” then the problem changes. And as the problem changes, follow it. The “presenting problem” is the symptoms, not the disease.

My gift is to help you see the world in a different way.

Your job now is to probe, but with no agenda.

What price do you pay for this?

What have you tried?

Why does this matter to you?

You’re teaching the client what to focus on.

The client’s question is always: “Will I be seen by you?”

Understand the problem

Ask * What are you up against?

Listen for a human dimension

Re-state the issue in own words

No help or subtle advice

Operate out of invitation as far as possible

The way we contract is part of our offering to the world

Our job is to make explicit what is unstated.

In the corporate world, the only time we can appreciate you is when you leave. We give you a party when you leave, and a present, and say goodbye: “Now I can love you, because you’re no longer a threat.”

What to do when you’re lost

Whenever I get lost, I stop analysing. I say * What do I want?

What do they want?

both from me, and from this project.

Our job is to teach the humanity back into the system.

What do I want? * Give up your “turnkey” fantasy

I do work, not magic

Shrink your expectations

Let me know your doubts as they arise

I need resources, time, access.

Tell the client : “keep doing XYZ.”

Write down the agreement if you like. It’s unenforceable, but at least it makes things clearer.

What do you want from as an outcome?

What do you want from me?

This is what i want from you

Find and name the agreement.

Greater clarity

Insurance questions: We’ve reached agreement, let’s have one more stab at concerns.

How do you feel about your level of control you have (this legitimises the conversation about control)

Any concerns around risks/ vulnerabilities.

If you did have some concerns, what would they be?

People will sacrifice outcomes for control. They would rather have control than results.

Name: Here is what you did right.

What did I do that was useful.


Re-name / re-frame the problem in a more actionable way.

Here is the problem as we now see it.

Now what are the other people still doing to create / sustain the problem?

What is your contribtion to create the problem?

What is contribution to sustain the problem?

And if the person says they don’t know, then that’s their contribution! They’re a spectator, not a player.

What choices do you think you have?

That’s our job: to give our clients options.

People who looked at this item also looked at…