Relationships that Work

Andy Phillips raised a very important point in a comment to our previous blog entry “Change Doesn’t Work!!!”.  We really value Andy taking the time to respond and the valuable professional point that he raised, and promised to respond in our next blog post.

CCG is very clear that success in our consulting engagements requires deep and trusting relationships with clients.  Our approach is evident from the outset: We state our intention from our first meeting with a new client that we wish to use the time to share our experience in the fields of strategy and change implementation and to learn about their concerns and plans for the future.

This approach is not understood by all: Many clients expect a consulting firm to hard sell a particular solution and to provide expert advice and answers from the get-go.

There are two problems with this approach:

1. In our experience it takes time to build trust with a client and it is only once a deep level of trust is present that a client will begin to share sensitive information and their real concerns.  This information is critical to consultants in order to build sustainable strategic solutions.

2. If a consultant is selling before listening long and deeply to a client sharing their concerns, then the best we can do is flog yesterday’s solution delivered to a client in perhaps a very different sector (and with very different concerns), and not be present to the current client’s troubles today.  

Unfortunately this is a position that (in our view) we are often forced into as consultants, because it takes a lot of courage to tell a new client (that you hardly know, is often anxious to find a solution, and is often not sharing the full story) that they will have to engage in a series of conversations before you can deliver the goods.

Why is this important?

1. CCG believes we need to change the nature of the client-consultant relationship, from one of expert adviser providing arms-length advice, to collaboration in a relationship of deep trust in which both parties run a mutual risk of failure (this speaks to the issue of fees and could be the topic for my next blog).

2. Clients need to manage their relationships with consultants more carefully, by engaging with and choosing consulting partners long before the need for their services arise, based on aligned values and a shared concern about a successful outcome.

If we can get these two things right, we believe that we will relieve a lot of pressure from both parties, and ensure a much higher level of successful strategy implementations than the current figures (research shows us that only 30% of such engagements are successful).

One more (contentious) point: It is our experience that clients are increasingly interested in consultants providing implementation solutions in addition to expert advice.  In our view, many of the big consulting houses have steered away from this (more risky) work, and focussed instead on delivering thick decks of well-constructed slides.

As a profession, we will build a lot more credibility, enjoy more satisfaction (and, dare we say it) secure an additional and lucrative income stream, if we are prepared to think through difficult problems, and then make the suggested solutions a reality.

In order to do this successfully, we believe that we need to be willing to invest in building relationships with clients from the get-go; and relationships that are based on rigorous engagement and honest reflection (both ways!).