A consultant (should be) someone who offers good advice. Many times this is advice based on subject matter expertise, experience, or other unique qualifications. However having a particular subject matter expertise or experience is only one facet of being a good consultant.
Great consultants have a lot more than just expertise – they understand how to solve problems and work with people. These skills aren’t just valuable to those who want to make a living providing advice professionally, they can help anyone who is trying to make a difference in any organization.
Great consultants help:
- Define problems – the key to solving the problem is often finding it.
- Establish scope – successfully solving some problems planning to break it into manageable chunks
- Find solutions – sometimes the solution is right under your nose, sometimes it takes being able to think outside the box or how it has always been done.
- Work to deliver – great consultants don’t just give advice, they help get you to the solution. Whether you are trying to bring you consulting skills to bear on an internal project or have been brought in to find a solution…roll up your sleeves!
The four items above form a pretty straight forward problem solving but getting them right is hard. You can and I have talked about different specific approaches to these things. At a more basic level I think there are some things I think everyone who works in teams or problem solving should think about.
These 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are things I like to remind myself of every so often because doing these basics well establishes a foundation for success over time.
- Listen more – Even if you have deep subject matter expertise most consultants would be better served to spend more time listening. I like to spend 60-80% of my time listening.
- Keep your personal opinions/life out of it – Especially for paid consultants but even with internal staff, the job is problem solving not discussing random life events. The less time we spend discussing the slopes, gym, love life or pets the more likely we are to solve something.
- Keep it positive – Even when things are bad, they could typically be worse and for most of us literal life and death do not hang in the balance. Focusing on the positive keeps even the most daunting tasks from becoming overwhelming.
- Take notes – I’m amazed at how rare note taking is…I don’t care where you take them (paper, iPad, computer) but take them. Not sure what to write? Anything that someone is supposed to do that doesn’t occur in the meeting, key on the following phrases (We should be…, the problem is…, someone needs to…, I’ve asked for…, the next step is..) Also…share your notes. You would be amazed at how few other people took them.
- Focus on results not effort – Nobody wants to hear about how you are working around the clock on something. Trust me people know hard workers when they see them and your results should speak for themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you worked 4 hours or 10. I want the results.
- Do or Do Not – I hear all the time about how to multi-task “better” and shake my head. I hate multitasking. Do one thing. Get it done. Go on to the next thing. Running back and forth lowers overall quality and lengthens time to market. I can’t prove it but I can sense it. Oh and turn off that loud music!
- Take breaks – Sometimes I will literally go for a walk to clear my head. Problem solving requires a lot of focus and energy. If you find your attention drifting change tasks, take a break or otherwise give your head a chance to recover from recent effort.
- Tackle the tough stuff in the AM -Trying to solve complex problems is hard. Trying to do it at 1AM after a 17 hour day isn’t going to happen. I like to split my work day so that most of the thinking is done in the morning and the more mundane and social tasks are in the afternoon. Most people are simply better prepared to problem solve in the morning.
- Do the research and include the research – Even when you know the answer off the top of your head go find the backing information. I’ve been amazed over the years at how often the right answer last year has been overtaken by advances in technology, business process changes, etc. I also always try to write up solutions to include references. I do this so it is easier for others to understand how I arrived at the solution. Also, I often need to go back to at least one of the 30 websites I looked at when developing the solution.
- Plan your problem solving efforts – Too often the plan for solving a problem is simply getting everyone in the room and talking about it. The end result too often is an agreement to meet again next week. Create a plan for your planning. Include agendas for meetings with clearly stated outcomes and objectives. Close meetings by checking against those items and ensuring action items are clearly defined and attributed.
Most of my 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are common sense. What is on your list? Do you have a repeatable approach to problem solving? Let me know @jmillsapps.
Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.
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