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Monthly tips to improve the business and practice of members of The Society for the Advancement of Consulting, LLC - Issue #44: May, 2007

Pushing back against client "solutions"

Pushing back against client "solutions"

Many clients will search for outside resources to implement a pre-determined solution. Human resource and training departments are famous for this ("We need a three-day training program") and RFPs are nothing but bids on implementing an alternative ("Bids sought for the design of a full-week leadership development program").

Yet most clients have done very little to determine if their pet solution is valid. They merely "copycat" someone else, or take the advice of a vender who specializes in, Guess What?, their solution.

Here is how to gracefully push back with prospective buyers (HR people and gatekeepers are out of the equation):

  • "How did you arrive at this particular course of action?"
  • "What makes you think that this will solve your problem/reach the new level of performance?"
  • "Has this worked for you before in the same situation? If so, why has the issue returned?"
  • "What's the ideal state you want to reach, before we talk about how to get there?"
  • "Who arrived at this course of action?"
  • "What is the urgency? Why are you doing this now?"
  • "Why do you feel you need outside help? Why aren't you doing this yourself?"
  • "Have you considered all the other ways to accomplish this, and are you open to doing so now?"

Consultants who accept the client solution-even if they are adept in the approach requested-run the mistake of doing a great job running the wrong race. That is, they implement well, but fail to meet the client objectives because the solution was incorrect from the start. So, guess who gets blamed? It won't be the buyer or the HR department.

Always push to evaluate why the client is asking for the particular option, if it makes sense, and what other approaches might be appropriate. That's the value of the consultant in contributing objective expertise and intellectual capital.

Otherwise, we're just the subcontractors offering another pair of hands and don't deserve to be paid any more than the people programming the computers or repairing the leaky pipes.

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