What is a consultant mindset? It's a frame of mind, or an approach to the way you work, based on persistent problem-solving and proactive communication. There are four elements to the consultant mindset. We're going to take a look at what they are and how we can bring those to life, so you can start thinking, working and communicating more effectively. With some simple changes in your behaviour, an increased attention to detail, some big thinking and small actions, you'll be bringing more value to your clients in no time.
Being able to communicate effectively is down to 3 things:
Perspective is about understanding your audience; providing context and taking a 360-degree view of the situation.
Self-discipline is a big one. Sometimes what you want to say won’t help you move forward. If you come across as aggressive or communicate in the wrong way, you’re going to need to exercise some control.Also, think of this when timing is important – maybe you don’t yet have the full picture, or you’re adhering to a change management plan. And if you’ve ever written an email three times before sending it, you’ve exercised self-discipline. And potentially avoided a show-down.
Bravery is important for people in project management, particularly when you’re heading into a board meeting. You might have your context and perspective nailed, have a solid understanding of your audience and be totally in control of your message. But you also need to have the courage and confidence to be open and honest when you’re telling the board something they don’t want to hear. Remember that effective communication travels in both directions. The responsibility is on you to make sure that you use your listening skills and interpret things correctly. Listen, observe, build rapport and deal with any barriers that could stop you truly understanding what someone’s saying. Try to come from a fact-based position, leaving no room for argument or misunderstanding. And take responsibility for your emotional wake - what you say, the impact you have, and the effect that will have on someone.
You're likely to come across conflict at some point. And you’ll have to navigate around it. There are a few types – be forewarned and forearmed!
Avoidance is when someone says they’ll do something, but they’ve had some issues with it, so they just don’t come through. Competing is directly aggressive or combative. Distant conflict will often come through via email and not face to face. You might find when you’re collaborating on a project, someone isn’t pulling their weight. That’s going to put you either side of collaborating conflict – it’s passive, but you still need to manage your way through it. And there’s accommodating conflict - there’s clearly disagreement in opinion or about what should be done. While no one puts up a fight, they have no intention of towing the line and may end up undermining what you’re doing. Know what you’re up against and use the tools in your consultant kit bag to break down the barriers, communicate constructively and find a positive way forward.
This is asking questions, listening actively, approaching your work with curiosity, keeping the big picture in mind and seeking context. One of the ways you can approach this is to zoom in and zoom out. Let’s say you’ve been assigned a task - A to B. Zoom out on day one and see how it fits in the bigger picture of the business, who wants it. Then zoom back into the task and as you work through it, make sure that what you’re doing is aligned. You might find yourself struggling to figure out how something fits. If that’s the case, consider your options for escalation and what you can do if you disagree on the goal. Raise it constructively and try to understand the other side. So start with an open mindset - learn the behaviours of the people around you, understand the cultural norms and get the lay of the land. Engage early and continuously with the client. And do it quickly. The customer wants value from you and a great outcome.
The consultant mindset continually challenges the status quo and courageously investigates problems to uncover how things can be improved. It moves from the problem space to a solution.
People tend to get stuck in their ways of working, the way it’s always been done. Processes with multiple steps and lengthy timelines often go unchallenged. But this is where you can help. First, understand what’s really happening and document the steps of the process. Question what’s really needed, what’s potentially unnecessary. With the right approvals, you can demonstrate a better way of working to reach the same solution. This is where you can add value because it’s often hard for employees to call things out. You can help them break down their fear of sharing, or of raising a fault and then learning from it. Sometimes it takes a consultant to give employees a little push in the right direction.
So how do we bring these elements of the consultant mindset to life? Let’s break down the behaviours that can help.
This one should be simple - do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Be reliable. Be accountable. Deliver on your promises. No excuses.
This can start small and simple, like getting your proposal right. Spell check your documents. And even read them out loud. Focus on a task by critically thinking and make sure that what you’;re doing is actually of value and going to be used. There’s a line here. Don’t get lost in the detail - you’ll end up disconnecting from what you’re doing, and from other people.
Think on your feet and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Be creative in your solutions. You’re there to listen actively, and shift momentum towards the solution space; allay people’s fears and help people find ways to work around roadblocks. Often it’s about creating an environment where the client isn’t standing in their own way and helping them see the solution that’s right in front of them. You don’t need to be the hero – set them up to wear the cape and be their cheerleader as they start to figure it out for themselves. That way, you’ll make lasting change within the organisation and not just make an external impact.
You can challenge organisational norms without railing against company policy. If you’re given a task, and you want to tackle it differently, challenge how the business approaches the problem. As a consultant, you give them the opportunity to think differently, as long as it’s allowed within the constraints of policy, resources and budget. Whether you’re there to see change through to the end or just for a short time, you can help them shift their attitudes and think in new ways.
Sometimes you’ll be asked to do something that’s not within your usual remit or to approach something differently to your usual methods. The key is to remember what you’re there to do - what you bring from your perspective. You can do what they want but be genuine and honest and keep ‘you’ in the picture. This will allow you to keep positively challenging the norms, be the real deal, and approach your work with an open and solutions-based mentality.
You’re there to help. To encourage and support the organisation to get to where they want to go. Use the four elements of the consultant mindset to focus on moving from a problem space to a solution. Lead by example and be creative. Make sure you’re deeply aware of their challenges from the start. Actively listen and show them how they can be effective in what they’re doing. Sometimes you just might change the whole business’s way of thinking for the better.