Should Consultants Cross The Line from Giving Advice To Taking Direct Action

Many times over the last two decades I have grumbled under my breath in the presence of clients:

“Move over! Let me do it for you!”

But I’ve stopped myself from overtly saying it, believing there is an occupational divide between those who advise and those who execute.

My clients might have been struggling to make appointments over the phone, flubbing every other line, testing the patience of listeners, while thinning a valuable database of prospects, and I could have grabbed the phone and glibly gabbed for a few seconds and have secured the meeting they were seeking.

“See, that’s how it’s done!” I could have bellowed. (Isn’t it the Zen folks that claim “direct pointing” is the best way to instruct?)

But then, in truth, I’d be handing them a fish instead of teaching them to fish. And they’d be very likely to ooh and ah and say, “Gee, I could never be as good as you are!” which is not exactly empowering to them.

Migrating from giving advice or running a training program to taking on the duties of a manager is known in some circles as “Blood and Guts Consulting” because it’s not nearly as tidy or painless as mere suggestion-making.

It is especially tempting to do in the following scenario.

Let’s say you have trained everyone to work differently, more productively in handling customer service opportunities, but instead of flipping the switch, indicating it is time for CSR’s to change, to abandon the old ways, managers are timid about enforcing the new protocols.

What then?

One of the key differences between a consultant or a coach and a manager is the latter has the power, as well as the responsibility to say “You MUST do this because it is PART OF YOUR JOB NOW.”

A consultant or coach can’t get away with this because he cannot hire or fire or compensate or otherwise make life easier or harder for his reports, because he has no reports.

Moreover, it is likely that the consultant reports to more than one person, himself, and that he is partly dependent on maintaining the good will of those he has trained and advised because they’ll be filling out evaluation forms, happily giving positive references to future prospective clients of his, or being mysteriously unavailable to respond to their inquiries.

It would seem to be an intractable problem, but there is a solution.

The consultant can sign-on as something more, as an Interim Manager, or as a Project Manager, seek and be given some of the powers I have mentioned above.

Senior management can say: “Gary is here to help us to improve in this area and he’ll have all appropriate authority to set the direction and implement new methods, to hire, fire, evaluate, and even to compensate. We expect and require full cooperation and we’re determined to make this project work. We’re behind it 100%”

Unfortunately, senior managers don’t introduce consultants or training and development programs in this manner. They’re more likely to say: “We’ve hired a consultant to look at how we do things and to make recommendations. Along the way, he’ll be running some classes, and we hope you’ll help to make his time with us productive.”

As you can tell, there’s absolutely no commitment in that approach. It enables senior managers to assume a wait and see posture, while undercutting the consultant’s credibility and clout.

Too often, this inadvertently seals the fate of the consultant’s project, consigning it to less than optimal impacts.

Should you take on more responsibility and make that passage from the somewhat tranquil waters of consulting, training, and coaching to the whitewater thrills and spills of management responsibilities?

It’s worth trying, but prepare yourself for a very different experience, process, and set of satisfactions.

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