The Consultant’s Calling – Book Review

This is a fascinating little book that looks at working as a consultant in an almost spiritual kind of way. I'm not going to summarise the book, but draw out the things that mean something to me. So this is a taster, and you have to buy the book!

I like his subtitle: Bringing Who You are to What You Do. This develops into the central question of the book which is not about making lots of money, but

How do you thrive as a consultant,
contribute to the world,
make friends, and
become the person you want to be?

He writes of how many people believe that a consultant brings expertise, and this may be where the conversations with a client start, however it is rare for a consultant to have expertise that does not exist elsewhere in the organisation – but it is perhaps trapped there because of the way things are seen. So what he says is more significant is the presence and perspective that the consultant brings. For example: “I don't know exactly what he does, but I do know that we have better meetings and make better decisions when he is around.” Your presence is your best intervention.

Your clients are not more powerful than you. An ongoing partnership is a equilibrium: between the abilities that the consultant brings, and the opportunities the client offers. You don't need to accept every client, and you can set the amount of time that you spend working to achieve your life goals. Indeed doing the work of a consultant should contribute to the personal growth that you want for yourself. It should fit, enjoyably, not just be a role that is played. This means that we need to know who we are, and how we are unique. So you need to decide what consultancy work you want, consider what you are ready to do, and work out what you still need to learn. Match uniqueness and readiness. Training needs to be not just in areas of weakness but also of strength – because our strengths can become vulnerabilities if we become sloppy.

There is not a clear market there to govern how to set fees. So it is alright to set your daily fee because “that is what you want.” However the minimum that you consider charging must be greater than subsistence level for the number of days you intend to work.

If the client does not have sufficient budget for all the work that needs doing, it may be better to give some time free than to lower the daily rate.

Continue to hone the way you work through noticing what kinds of work and clients go well. Bear in mind that the pattern of work will change over time, because you want it to, for example between consulting, coaching, training, speaking, and writing.

If purpose and perspective are some of the key reasons that clients hire consultants, they retain them for other reasons including authenticity, friendship, and fun. As the partnership grows, seeing it as a partnership, shared values, valuing work and results as more important than roles and activity, and somehow a good “fit” are important. Unclear contracting is to be avoided as it is a major cause of failure. (I presume that producing results continues to be important.) It is, he writes, good to note the small and large contributions that the client values.

Organisations don't always make sense – I take this to mean that they need to be accepted and understood as one would a person.

Consultants thrive on change, but it hurts! He lists different ways of achieving change. We have our preferences. In the end, “simple works.”
Abilities: knowledge, skills, habits, feelings.
Concepts: models, frameworks, ideas.
Processes: systems and procedures.
Direction: goals, mission, purpose, objectives
Boundaries: standards, tolerance, parameters.
Intentions: Aspirations, motives, needs.
Consequences: rewards, punishment, reinforcement, extinguishers.
Perspective: vision, viewpoint, position.
Context: Environment, culture, norms.
Enlightenment: Wisdom, value, belief, myth.

It takes longer than we would like to build a business, but “business begets business.” The people most likely to give us work are those who have given us work before. So when we are starting out, this means former colleagues. People need to have experienced us, ideally in several ways and ideally in person. So every encounter is an opportunity to do work (for money or for none), and he advocates speaking at conferences etc. Because business comes in this way, courage is needed to wait, sometimes for months.

He says that it is not enough to “network,” people must be able to taste who we are and what we offer, and preferably from two separate sources. We need to “create coincidence.” Although more distant, writing short papers, or an article a year, will feed this process.

By the same author: Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge. ISBN 1 57675 172 4.

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