What it takes to be a Great Consultant

One of my favorite blog posts is What it takes to be a Great Consultant by Laddie Suk. I have a local copy that I read from time to time as a reminder. I send the link (https://infocus.emc.com/laddie_suk/what-it-takes-to-be-a-great-consultant-the-top-10-list/) to the online blog post to other consultants when discussing this topic. I have also evaluated the performance of other consultants based on these attributes.

Below are the top ten attributes with my recommendations. Please read the original blog posting for the complete context. I will only provide a very brief description of each attribute.

1. Opinionated

The first and foremost thing a consultant needs to have is an informed opinion or, in more “consultantese,” a point of view (POV).

My recommendations are:

  • Watch and listen an experienced (and respected) consultant on how to do this.
  • Be very clear when you are providing advice based on your experience and when the advice is based on industry practice.

2. Pragmatic

Models and frameworks are great, but you need to bring things down to a practical level and consider how to actually design and implement solutions for your clients.

My recommendations are:

  • Separate what happens in theory from what happens in practice.
  • Be clear about what actually happens in practice. Provide examples from your experience when helpful. Be short and to the point.

3. Passionate

No faking here, you’ve got to really care about helping your clients. It’s obvious when someone is doing a job just for the money or takes a passive, careless approach to the work.

My recommendations are:

  • Remember, you became a consultant to make a difference for your clients and they expect you to deliver!
  • You must let people know that you are excited about the opportunity.

4. Resilient

We all have bad days. We all hit brick walls. What distinguishes Great Consultants, however, is the ability to pick themselves up by the bootstraps when things aren’t going well, motivate the team, and keep helping the client to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

My recommendations are:

  • You must have an “I own this” attitude. “I will get this done for you”.
  • Do not spend your time explaining why something is not your fault or why you should not be held accountable. You probably own it if it is part of the project.

5. Business-minded

An area that many consultants in the Talent Development arena lack is business acumen. Understanding how a business operates, what drives decisions, and what makes the industry unique really sets consultants apart.

My recommendations are:

  • You need to be vocal about the importance of revenue and expenses. You need to consider revenue and expenses in your decision-making.
  • Meetings are expensive. Come prepared to a meeting so that everyone is productive.

6. Professional

Consultants should hold themselves to the highest standards of ethics, confidentiality, and integrity. By virtue of your role, you will likely see and hear a lot, and it’s imperative for your clients to trust you.

My recommendations are:

  • Be comfortable with chaos – things are always changing. But we need to appear that we can manage that change.
  • We should be calm during the storm because we own this! Our customers brought us this opportunity because they expected us to get it done no matter what.

7. Curious (but skeptical)

Ask questions, listen, and be professionally skeptical. As a consultant, your value comes in asking the tough questions, culling out the inconsistencies, and driving to the root causes.

My recommendations are:

  • Look for the root cause. Determine the requirements. Write them up clearly and send them out for review. Do not assume that everyone has the same understanding or that there is consensus.
  • The analysis that you provide should be original and beneficial to your client. The analysis should be tailored to their strategy and goals.

8. Resourceful

Know when to enlist help. None of us is an expert in everything, and you should always know:

  1. when it’s time to bring in reinforcements, and
  2. where to go to find them.

My recommendations are:

  • Don’t get stuck on a problem for days. You can always find help quickly via other Subject Matter Experts.

9. Influential

Your ability to influence may be as important as your expertise (if not more so). If you can’t get your client or other stakeholders to buy into the plan, idea, or strategy, then the forward movement stops there.

My recommendations are:

  • You should be continuously communicating with stakeholders. They need to be part of the review and analysis process. They should not be blind-sided by hearing your recommendations on the last day of any project.
  • Review your recommendations with your team in advance.
  • Prepare a quality executive presentations based on your report. Do not introduce new ideas in the presentation that are not listed in your report.

10. Strategic (and tactical)

Seeing the big picture and connecting dots may be some of the most important value you bring to your clients. They are in the thick of things and being pulled in various directions.

My recommendations are:

  • Provide an analysis that shows if the client can achieve their strategy with their current process. You must clearly state their strategy and their current state.
  • Provide recommendations with practical steps on how the client can achieve their strategy by changing their current process.
  • Be prepared to discuss how your recommendations worked for other clients.

In conclusion, I very much appreciate having the 10 consulting attributes as a reference. They have helped me considerably. The recommendations are my own and are based on my own experience.