7 Habits of Highly Effective Consultants
Consulting is one of the most challenging yet highly rewarding professions. Effective consultants show a number of definitive traits which are not only necessary to achieve success in this field but also are identified as the key differentiating factors which allows them to stand apart from the rest. I would like to go ahead and define consultants as really smart bunch of people with structured focus; the focus is towards clients’ satisfaction. Success of consultants is a direct function of their clients’ success. An effective consultant should always be outward focused. Understanding clients’ needs accurately and delivering the right results are the bottom line of this field. Working hard alone doesn’t make anybody an effective consultant; it’s a delicate balance between diligence and intelligence. Bottom line: Work smart.
This is my first article here and decided to go with this title “inspired” from one of the greatest books by Dr. Stephen Covey’s. I am not trying to draw an analogy from the book but rather laying out my personal thinking on what makes a consultant effective and successful. So here goes:
Habit # 1: Hunger for knowledge
Consultant’s only weapon is their brain and ideally it should be always hungry. Greed is one of the deadly sins they say, but it is not when it comes to knowledge. Greed for knowledge is good it keeps you going. In today’s scenario when everything changes in a blink of an eye keeping oneself updated is the only survival strategy.
Sir Isaac Newton wrote on one of this last memoirs “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me”. There is no room for complacency. We must know more any day, everyday day by day. I am often asked by aspiring consultants, “How do I go about preparing myself?” and my answer always starts with “Read”. Reading newspapers, magazines, blogs, fiction, non-fiction, Bollywood gossips, cricket news whatever you can lay your hands and eyes on. Do all of these help? Well let me put it this way x% of your reading will go to waste (I doubt that) but no one knows which x%. So better be safe than sorry.
Another aspect of reading that helps consultants is the ability draw analogy on different situations. A Dan Brown novel can help you start a discussion with your client. A fiction on human relationship can help you understand your clients as well as your team better. Bottom line: It’s imperative to be knowledgeable, no other way out, no other shortcut.
Building up knowledge is not the only thing. Keeping ourselves updated with changing times, scenario, happening and events are also must. But what differentiates an effective consultant from the rest is the ability to analyze the learning, draw analogies cross scenario and draw wise conclusions.
Effective consultants are also known to be visionaries. Ability to see the future. No am not talking about being a psychic or an astrologer, it is simple Math. Gathering information is a must and it needs hard work and dedication. Let’s call this skill set as diligence. Now it cannot stop here. This Information is not to be stored like a computer keeps on a hard disk. We must learn from the information. Learn from our experiences and others’. Learning needs rational thought process. Let’s call this skill set as intelligence. Now we learnt from various sources. Do we stop here? No. Analyzing the learning across each other, drawing analogies and getting conclusions and answers will lead to another skill set, let’s call it wisdom. Now we have all the skills needed to actually predict the scenario. Predict the business environment. Understand the business situation and weigh the risks each solution would have. You actually get the power to simulate future.
Diligence + Intelligence + Wisdom = Visionary
Habit # 2: Experience
Ok I agree this apparently doesn’t seem like a habit but by experience I am not referring to the number of years indicated in that A4 sized paper popularly known as CV. Number of years in experience or the quantity of the experience is a function of time which is not under anyone’s control. Having more quantity in terms of years definitely helps but it is not enough. What really matters is the quality. Quality of the profile and the job you are doing. Gaining specialized knowledge is crucial but at the same time diversification is needed. Og Mandino’s in his book The Greatest Salesman of the World says “Experience is often overrated, what might work today might not work tomorrow”. That brings me to the same point about keeping ourselves updated.
It’s our choice whether to spent 20 years doing the same work and not learning anything new or spend each day exploring and learning something new. There is an amazing song written by Baz Luhrman called sunscreen which has a beautiful quote “Do one thing every day that scares you”. Experiences help a consultant to sharpen all the other skills. It helps in knowledge, gaining credibility, growing their network etc. But truly an experience is not about counting the years, it is about making the years count.
This is another key trait of an effective consultant, taking each day as a challenge, pushing to the limit making each day, each hour and every minute count. This I would like to call “Proactive Experience”.
Habit # 3: Networking
Every successful consultant is great at networking. They are extrovert, confident and have the ability to strike a conversation and get people interested in a jiffy. How do they do that? Well, they know a lot and talking about any topics which are interesting other people is not a difficult task. One key thing about sophisticated networking which differentiate consultants from salesman is that an effective consultant is more interested understanding the clients problems or situation rather than just to make a deal or a sale. Consultants are not salesman, they are not groomed o be one. They are groomed to solve problem, help clients. The difference in approach is critical. Does that mean consultants cannot sell their services? Yes they definitely can but the focus for a consultant is not on the sale but on the clients. I strictly follow this policy at my firm. A long term relationship with a satisfied client is worth much more than looting hundreds of clients with poor service.
A salesman approach to networking or consulting will not help any one of us to sustain our growth, reputation and trust. A success of a consultant is purely dependant on the success of the project or clients business.
Habit # 4: Adaptability
Believe it or not world is changing so is the business environment. Every day you wake up to see a whole new world. Adaptability is the key. Adaptability in terms of knowledge, information, location, travel, culture, lifestyle everything. There are no room for mental blocks for an effective consultant. They are ready to travel to any location, understand any culture, learn their etiquettes and language. Today we are living in the era of globalization; the World has indeed become flat. An assignment today is not confined to any boundaries. The advent of internet and advancement of technology has created new tools in research and consulting practice. If we don’t adapt & if we don’t evolve we would be extinct.
I would like to draw an analogy from theory of evolution by Charles Darwin. Darwin’s first postulate states “prodigality of races” which is analogous to the ever increasing competition in any field especially consulting. Competition is bounded by the demand side or the number of assignments in related field which is analogous to the second postulate “constancy of food”. These two leads to “struggle for existence”. Struggle to excel and existence to survive. Obviously here comes the “survival of the fittest”. But who is the fit ones? Is it random selection or rather the natural selection of these effective consultants who show these unique habits?
Habit # 5: Extremely high learning curve
A consultant’s life is challenging. Each day they face a new facet of business a new sector a new regulation. Often consultants are assigned to handle certain projects which they do not have the complete knowhow or previous experience. It is necessary for a consultant to bring themselves at par with the clients in no time. Not just the basics but understanding intricate details, tricks of trade. A consultant must have a steep learning curve and a strong retention. Some people are born with it and some people develop it, in either case this is one of the critical factors which differentiate consultants.
Habit # 6: Mental Strength & Winning Attitude
Constant work pressure, erratic schedule and other damping force can get anybody bogged down. But this is a part of everyday life for a consultant. A consultant cannot get these things affect their work. They remain calm, composed and focused. Another trait shared by successful consultants in the confidence. They are great motivator. Their aura reflects positivity. It is very important to make the client comfortable when they are communicating. Effective consultants do not see consulting as a job, it is their way of life and are very passionate towards it. Without the passion it is not possible to excel as a consultant.
Habit # 7: Communication
Assertive communication. Excellent communication, professional presentation of self are something which is seen in all successful consultants. What makes them really great is their ability to gel with people. Gauging the audience and modify their style. They are amazing listeners. It is very important for a consultant to listen and understand client’s situation before starting to talk. Our key to success is our clients. Our communication style is not to flaunt our skills rather it is to get our client’s trust.
All these skills complete the traits of an effective consultant. There are much more to this but since this is my first article, I think I should stop for now. Please feel free to comment and ask questions. Would be happy to interact and connect with you all.