Flawless Consulting: Create the Conditions to Do Good Work

It was in my inbox on a Monday morning. A request to facilitate a two day conference.  (I was curious.)

It was in a cool part of the world. (I was intrigued.)

It was for a great cause. (I was excited.)

It was in two weeks' time.  (Yikes! but, I could shuffle some things and be available.)

As I reviewed the agenda they had attached, I knew our Dialogue Education process for design and facilitation would be very helpful. (I was SOLD!)

Before my exposure to Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting that would have been all it took to say yes. I love it when my expertise is solicited and I make my living by saying yes to projects. If you are a consultant, internal or external, you probably know this feeling. We choose this kind of work because we want to be helpful.

But a request for help, and the knowledge and desire to be helpful, are not enough to ensure that the help is…well…helpful. That takes another set of skills, the ones Block calls “flawless consulting” skills. Simply put, these are the skills and processes the consultant uses to create the conditions, not just to do work, but to do good work. These are the skills that help you ensure that your expertise is used to its full effect.

I have had a lot of good work. But I have also had my share of not-so-good work. By not-so-good, I don’t mean hard projects (I like them!), or complicated projects (aren’t they all?). I mean projects that didn’t deliver the results I promised. It is easy to blame the client for that.  But when I analyze the not-so-good ones, I can see that the conditions for success were not there from the very beginning, in part because I didn’t ask for them. 

To consult flawlessly, we need to get a good understanding of how the client wants to work with us AND we need to tell the client, authentically, how we want to work with her. This is not just about fees and timelines. It’s about the working relationship.  How will we share control? How much of your time and attention do I want? How honestly can we talk with each other about how it’s going? 

When we teach Flawless Consulting, participants clarify their list of “wants,” focusing on the working relationship. Then they practice saying “I want…” out loud. Consultants struggle to do it. We are very used to asking our clients what they want from us, but we can be pretty vague when it comes to telling our clients how we want to work with them, even when we know those things have implications for the results we achieve.

We don’t have to get everything we want. But we should be able to pinpoint the ones that are going to have the greatest impact on the success of the project, ask for them, and talk honestly with our clients about them. After all, they want good work too.

So, as I thought about this cool opportunity, I clarified two key wants—the things that would turn this opportunity for work into an opportunity to do good work:

  1. I wanted to be able to make some changes to the agenda — they were looking for facilitation, but I could see that working on the design would get them better results.  This would use my expertise to full advantage.
  2. And, given the short time line, I wanted the time and attention of the event “owners” the following week, in order to align with their purpose for this event. And use their expertise—what they know about the group and the situation—to full advantage.

We had a great conversation.  The client saw that those things would, indeed, create the conditions to do good work. She also knew that she would not be able to offer them in this case. Too many deciders and not enough time. She thanked me, said we would definitely work together sometime soon, and they would probably facilitate this one internally.

So, I won’t be doing that two-day conference in a cool part of the world this time. This might seem like I lost an opportunity to do work. And I guess I did. But our conversation was also a step towards doing more good work together. We have already begun to create those conditions.

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