What makes a good consultant

As I typed the word consultant I immediately realised my mistake.


The technology world has ( and is going through ) faster and faster cycles of change. Like its predecessor – The Industrial Revolution – The Digital Era is all about speed, acceleration and route to market. Never before has clarity existed in what technology can do for a business, and never before has the human interaction with technology been so immersed.

Of course the nett impact of this speed of change is felt no more acutely than in the human aspect. The worker is now supposed to be a Digital Worker, and the IT support person is now supposed to be a Service Orientated colleague. And the IT supplier is now supposed to be a partner.

The Digital Era is unquestionably rewriting job roles, functions, descriptions and ultimately value expectations from the intended benefactor.

And so we arrive at the Consultant.

For decades the Consultant was that person who had strong SME skills in a particular range of technology and was called upon to deliver the commercial coup de grace by evangelising to the audience why a particular piece of technology was a ‘no brainer’ for an immediate purchase.

Many consultants will have privately ( and publicly no doubt ) expressed a view that it is ‘they’ who actually did the selling.

At this point let me tell a little story.

Someone I know has a role where they have horizontal and vertical capability in a number of technology and commercial stacks. Actually this is doing them a disservice because their background as a senior leader at CIO level and in a specific industry segment has earned them the right to be called a thought leader. They have the tools experience of actually delivering business change but can also back this up with real world experience of how things get done.

This person calls themselves a consultant.

In action this person has a particular trait that I believe makes them less a consultant in the traditional sense ( listen, question, challenge, capture and go away and propose something ) but more of a Coach.

You see this person does something I rarely see in consultants today.

Faced with the challenge that getting a message across or helping the person the other side of the table understand how their business challenges could be resolved, this person does something ridiculously simple yet so powerful.

They give something away that the other person wants and that they didn’t expect to get.

Call it free advice if you want, or more accurately I like to call it deep insight.

Deep because they can in short time understand the business challenge the other person is facing, clarify the desired outcome and through visual means articulate an approach that not only meets the desired outcome but draws in other sub layer challenges that the other person is also facing, without often knowing they existed. They are so sharp and adept that they can in short time capture, compute and effectively ‘strawman’ an outcome, but in such a subtle way that they appear to be coaching the other person to make the right decisions based on their ‘initial story telling’.

At a recent meeting I was fortunate to attend, the conversation being played out was all about the impact of change and the application of significant heavy lifting infrastructure projects – some technology, some not – but all of them very expensive in terms of capital, human and environmental outcome.

This person through nothing more powerful than a single piece of paper articulated visually the journey for the business change programme in terms of impact and outcome, and also embraced the impact of unintended consequences of the change. This visualisation was more than a hand drawn scribble that we all do at times as we try and relay our message. No this was a hand draw scribble that had depth in understanding and clarity of vision.

And the really impressive aspect was the body language of the other people – very senior stakeholders. As the scribble was been drawn in front of their eyes physical changes occurred. Bodies lent forward, chairs were bought closer to the table and necks were craned to take a good luck at the single piece of paper coming alive in front of them.

And what was the beautiful moment for me was that at the end of the meeting there was that subtle pause where the senior people (lets  call them Client now) desperately wanted the piece of paper but were unsure whether to ask, and the person – (lets call him Coach now )- who in their eyes owned such powerful IP just lent across and pushed the paper to them saying ‘you can take this of course – not a problem’.

In that moment a human transaction had occurred to such an extent that a level of trust was established, so often missing in the traditional consultant/client relationship.

it was pure deep insight delivered in such an accelerated manner that was so not expected, yet created a bond of trust and confidence that the follow up meeting proposal or presentation was already being engineered by both parties in a mutual not supplier approach.

It wasn’t over complicated and oozed clarity around the business problem and the solution all delivered on a single piece of paper with a sketch of the journey and outcome. No fancy slides, interactive device nor chalk and talk pitch.

As I reflect on this true story I actually am not sure if Coach is even the right title for this piece of consultancy.Perhaps the title doesn’t exist today but I am pretty sure as the Digital Era enters more phases of transformation and alignment of the ‘tech’ with business outcomes, people like my Coach example will surface with their own particular style of ‘giving something away for free that the other person wants but didn’t know it.’



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