Jenny Schade's Making It Count
Prove your value by demonstrating the improvements you bring to your client.
I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my consulting initiatives this year: many employees are suddenly being asked to operate as consultants within their own companies. Organizations have discovered that they can reduce expenses that have traditionally been treated as unavoidable overhead – including Communications, Information Technology, and Market Research – by restructuring them as “shared services” that charge other departments for their talent.
If you’re thinking this trend doesn’t apply to your situation, answer one simple question: Would you like your professional success to increase? If so, read on. The insights in this article will improve your business success whether you work with internal or external clients...
The new organizational operating model initially feels uncomfortable because it is based on an aspect of doing business that all consultants struggle with at times: If you are going to charge others for your services, you need to be razor-sharp about the ultimate benefits you are providing – your value. In other words, just being good at your job isn’t enough. Being an excellent researcher, writer or statistician isn’t going to cut it. To provide value, you need to reach beyond your functional expertise and identify how what you do improves the condition of your intended client, whether internal or external.
I recently conducted a workshop for a corporate department that company leadership asked me to design especially for this area -- building employees’ consulting skills. No doubt about it, the expertise in the room was unparalleled. But these professionals needed to understand how to work with internal clients who now had the choice of paying for their services or going outside the company and hiring external consultants. Management had made it abundantly clear that if external consultants were preferred over the internal department, the internal department would be eliminated. And nobody wanted that.
Following are three skill areas I taught these executives, which I call Jenny Schade’s Inside Secrets to Successful Consulting:
1. Understand your prospective client’s situation, or as I like to put it, “Work a Mile in Their Shoes.”
Before you start talking about your expertise and what you have to offer, make sure you understand what your internal or external client is facing.
By the way, I’m not talking about obvious descriptions such as, “You are the third largest packaged goods company in the world.” I’m suggesting that you interview your prospective client and develop an insightful understanding of the situation that shows you understand what he or she is up against.
In other words, avoid generalities that everyone knows about -- get into the nitty gritty.
Here’s an example of an actual “situation analysis” I developed from a meeting with a new client:
“The cost savings potential for the Smart Resources Initiative is enormous. You estimate that you could save the company $20 million a year across non-plastic supplies. However, the cost savings are dependent upon employees using the Smart Resources process. Since participation is optional, you urgently need to convince potential internal ‘customers’ to use the process.
Ten previous teams have attempted very similar initiatives and failed. You want this time to succeed. Your success depends upon diagnosing potential barriers to employee participation and engaging employees in utilizing your new process.”
Upon reading this, my prospective client said, “I don’t know how you got this after talking with me for just 10 minutes, but you definitely understand my situation.” That’s exactly the kind of connection a consultant needs for success.
Questions to help you understand your client’s situation include:
- Why are you doing this now?
- What have you tried before? How did that work?
- What might get in the way of success?
- How will you know we’ve succeeded?
- What would you consider to be a failure?
2. Define your objectives.
When you establish objectives, back up from your functional expertise and look at the big picture. For example, if you are in the field of communications research, your objectives should not include specifics such as conducting focus groups or doing a communications audit. In fact, effective objectives should never mention how you’re going to achieve your goals. Effective objectives focus on the outcome you are seeking to achieve.
For example, instead of saying “We will conduct a company-wide communications audit,” your objectives should be along the lines of: “Increase demand for Internal Communications’ services” or “Improve understanding of company initiatives among field employees.”
Do you see the difference? The focus groups or communications audit are your methodologies, but your objectives relate to the business outcomes you are seeking.
Questions to help you determine objectives include:
- What would you like to accomplish?
- How will you be evaluated on the success of this initiative?
- What do you want to walk away from this initiative knowing?
- What would make you say to yourself, “I’m so glad I hired this consultant. She rocks!”
- Ideally, how would conditions improve as a result of this initiative?
3. Establish measures of success.
In order to design effective measurement criteria, it’s critical that everyone involved in the initiative – whether actually executing the work or signing the check that pays for it – has a clear idea of what success looks like. The implementer may have a very different idea of victory than the person ultimately responsible for the initiative. It’s important to achieve consensus before getting underway.
Questions to help you determine measures of success include:
- Let’s say we go ahead and work together on this initiative. At the end of the day, how will we know we’ve been successful?
- How will you know we’ve accomplished the objectives?
- Ideally, what would look different as a result of our work together?
- How will we assess our progress?
- How will you know conditions have improved?
Whether you are an internal or external consultant, these three insights will vastly improve the likelihood of your success.
Jenny Schade is president of JRS Consulting, Inc., a firm that helps organizations build leading brands and efficiently attract and motivate employees and customers. Subscribe to the free JRS newsletter. Contact Jenny Schade at 847/920-1701 or jenny.schade@JRSconsulting.net.
© JRS Consulting, Inc. 2010