1. There is a huge difference between being an internal consultant and an external consultant. The old saying “The farther away from home you are, the more of an expert you become” still reigns. I can’t count the number of times I have seen an external consultant come into a business, interview the internal knowledge holders, repeat back the same information the company has repeatedly rejected from those same internals, and be heralded as a genius. If the internals have the nerve to say “We’ve been telling you this for years” management responds “Of course we didn’t listen to you, you don’t have Mr. Consultant’s experience and expertise.” As an internal, your primary goal, before you can make any valuable contribution, is to convince management that you are knowledgeable and trustworthy. The key to that is make sure that you’re speaking their language. If you’re in HR or L&D, don’t make the mistake of trying to talk to the C-suite using your lingo. Figure out what matters to them, how they express it, and translate your info into boardroom-speak.

    Another scenario is when management hires a consultant to confirm a preexisting plan will produce a desired outcome. In simple terms, they hire them to be yes-men. These consultants tend to offer a summary confirming managements’ brilliance, cash their check and get out of town before the project inevitably fails. As an internal, you don’t have the option to take the money and run. You need to learn how to talk the boss back off the cliff before they jump and take everyone else with them. Again, talking their language is key. Don’t say, “If you do this, employees will hate it and we’ll have to listen to them complain. ” Say, “If you do this, turnover will double and labor costs increase by 15%.”

  2. Thank you, Patti and Jack, for this excellent crystallization of what it takes to succeed as a consultant. Having recently moved from internal to external, I especially appreciate the breakdown of essential steps. I underscore the importance of steps #7 and #8. Many times these steps get missed in a rush to move on, yet reflecting through story telling–and even celebrating–along with black box thinking can sustain results and promote future success.

  3. The consulting project has to be relevant, meaningful and important to the individuals and the organization. Because the people involved in the project should be able to learned and benefited

  4. Some very insightful stuff here. it’s gutsy to say that delivering a solution, then cutting the cord is the best practice, when there a an intense focus on recurring revenue. But I agree! Ultimately, I believe you prosper as a consultant on high value engagements through personal referrals. For that to happen, getting the job done at a cost that makes sense is key.
    The other key insight for me is knowledge transfer, so that the customer can operate independently – and successfully without having to call back for support. Stealth L&D!

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