Secret Weapons of the Modern Consultant

Author : Steve Shu
Published: August 09, 2012

Although I’ve developed a number of blog posts addressing the practice of management consulting, I have spent little time tying things together into a framework of secret weapons of the modern consultant. Secret weapons are a spectrum of tactics and skill areas – while some may be used widely, they are often passed through mentorship or apprenticeship in bits and pieces. A modern consultant is a professional that can work in dynamic industries, operate within multiple types of consulting organizations (e.g., niche, large traditional), and has experience as both an operating manager and an advisor.

So here are a number of secret weapons of the modern consultant (arranged roughly in order from foundational to more advanced)

1). Problem Statement Articulation Skills – This skill requires a consultant (or manager) to define the boundaries of a scope of work. Implicit to this is being able to define what decisions points need to be met and the managerial significance of the issue at hand. Because the organization is preparing to commit resources to investigating a problem, this is core to getting started.

2). Structured Problem-Solving Skills and Industry Knowledge – Facility with structured approaches may be developed by learning key frameworks such the popularized McKinsey MECE approach (McKinsey Style MECE Decision Tree). Skills can also be gleaned from thinking about how one would practice consulting science versus giving simple advice. Aspects of industry knowledge come through experience and specialization and can be augmented by reading trade magazines, etc.

3). Engagement Management Mastery – This skill ties together problem statement, structured approaches, and industry knowledge. Mastery goes further by synthesizing the resources that will solve the problem at hand along with managing advisor-level relations with the executive sponsor.

4). Interpersonal, Facilitation & Leadership Skills – Facilitation skills are especially important because they help a professional in cases where authority does not exist and where influence must be used to achieve management goals.

5). Storytelling and Executive Analysis Skills – At least two core frames of thinking come to mind when I think about this subject. The first frame is best illustrated by how one ties together presentation slides in a storyboard using “bottom-line titling” versus “topical titling.” The second key frame is driving towards answering “So What?” questions all along the way in an analysis presentation. An example of answering the “So What?” question might be, “Client needs to focus on improving six red-flagged areas which cost the client $X per annum in above average churn.” Without bottom line or prescriptive messages to analyses, consultants may find themselves in an unfortunate spot of brain-dumping information with no end purpose or goal.

6). Adaptation Skills – When I think of developing adaptation skills, I think of developing skills that improve behavior and communications skills “in the moment”. I also think of changing one’s reference of thinking with concepts such as “there are no sacred cows”. Something that I have a lot in consulting environments is the idea of constantly seeking better ideas, better ways to describe things, and new approaches. With this in mind, one can’t get too protective of one’s work because one’s goal is really to further the quality of work of the engagement team and ultimately the end goals of the client.

7). Forecasting and Envisioning Skills – This secret weapon is quite elusive. Do you develop these skills by understanding systems thinking? Does it come from understanding economics or innovation processes better? Does it come about by trying to apply social responsibility concepts? It is possible that this secret weapon is analogous to the mysterious Dragon Scroll from the animated movie, “Kung Fu Panda”. For me, I see three prototypes of people that develop this secret weapon: those that have innate talent and vision already, those that develop such skills by mastering a craft (or a practice area), and those that use their networks to help develop insights into the future.

So there you have it. Secret weapons to further one’s mastery of consulting.

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