Peter Block is a consultant and the author of several books on consulting. In this interview, Block offers valuable tips for consultants who wish to improve their skills as well as their relationships with their clients.
What are some ideal goals for consultants?
To be of service. To help others live out their intentions. To put into words what clients are unable to do for themselves.
What key skills are needed for successful consulting?
Show up as a whole person, free from the politics of the client organization. Contract well, be clear about our own wants and recognize that the client's version of the problem is only a starting point and not a fact.
What are the most common mistakes that consultants make in data collection, and are there any legal implications?
Overdoing it, trying to be too comprehensive, too much data and too many recommendations. Thinking that analysis creates change. Identifying problems and not enough possibilities.
Should consultants ever guarantee their work, and if so, what should they know to protect themselves?
We can guarantee the integrity of our promise and actions. We cannot guarantee results, because it is the client who gets credit and is responsible for outcomes, not us. When we claim results for ourselves, we have stolen something from the client.
Should consultants ask clients to evaluate their performance, and if so, what is the best way to do this?
It should not be a formal process, but part of an ongoing conversation.
There are many pricing models in the consulting world. What is your philosophy on pricing?
Assess the market price, and then peg your rates against that. Money is not the point. Charge a rate that honors your skills, but do not underprice just to get business. Clients do not make decisions based on price. If they do, they are lousy clients.
Networking is important to consultants. Where have you found the best networking connections?
Conferences and professional meetings.
Many times, consultants' initial point of entry with a client may be at mid-level or even at low-level. After some time with the organization, it appears that consultants' interventions may need to be a bit more global than the authority level of the original contracting point, yet the original contact has ownership or refuses to pass consultants “up the chain.” What advice do you have for those in this situation? What has worked for you?
Do not worry about what level you are working at. Those in top management are the slowest learners. Go where there is energy and passion to make a change. When we want to move up the chain, that is our contribution to patriarchy.
Please expand upon the importance of the contracting process and how many problems result from not taking the time to get this part right.
All failures are caused by poor contracting. The contracting is the work, not the prelude to the work. This is the point where you teach the client how to work with you.
What tips do you have for consultants who attempt to manage their practices and end up doing less of the work of consulting?
Pray. It is the destiny of consultants who are entrepreneurial to end up managing. One hedge is to make sure that the managing partner spends at least 40% of their time doing direct service. If this does not occur, they will lose touch with the market.
What should consultants do to avoid falling into the trap of taking work they would rather not do just to make the “sales volume?” Please address this from the point of view of consultants who are just starting out as well as from that of consultants who might be in this position after starting their practice.
Taking the work to build the practice is an ethical issue. You betray the client when you show up for cash. The resolution is to decide not to measure your success by the growth of the practice. A small firm can make a good living. The only reason to grow is to bolster your self-esteem, in which case it will not have that effect, or to please your father and mother. This does not work either.
Have you ever been asked to work on the problems of a group that is a step or two above your entry point to the organization? For example, “I would like you to work with the senior management team so that they can have a better vision for safety and embrace the necessary changes in order to change our culture.”
Any project that begins with the client trying to change someone else starts with a built-in fault line. Resistance to change is caused by coercive strategies. Top management is fine; they do not want to change. Get over it and focus on places where there is motivation to create a different future.
If senior management is part of the problem, is it best to involve them with the project from the beginning, or does this hamper the consulting process (assuming that they did not call the consultant in)?
Top is always part of the problem, as are people at every level. The wider the involvement, the better the outcome.
What are the most common reasons that cause consultants to turn down projects, and what is the best way to do this gracefully?
We turn down projects because we have no interest in the client, we are overloaded, or we do not think we can be successful. Grace comes from putting the reason for the refusal on no one else's shoulders but our own.
What are your tips for firing a client?
We do not fire clients. They do not work for us, and we do not own them. End the relationship at the moment when you feel you are no longer useful.
Do the ideas presented in Flawless Consulting apply equally to internal consultants, such as in-house safety experts, as they do to external consultants? Why or why not?
The book was written for internal consultants. All staff people are consultants, it does not matter what the expertise. Every staff person is trying to have influence without control.
The section in Flawless Consulting on being authentic is terrific! What other suggestions do you have for building trust with a client?
Respect them; treat them as people with great capacity, as friends and partners. Being authentic is simply putting into words, in a compassionate way, what you see happening, including your own role in that.
Without naming names, who is the best client you ever had and why?
The best forgave me for my clumsiness, they acted on their instincts long before I arrived, and at a deeper level, they never really needed me.
How can consultants can improve their effectiveness?
Everything above is about effectiveness. Effectiveness is about how we show up, about pursuing our own sense of purpose and supporting the client in the same. Tools, techniques and elaborate models never changed the world or made a difference. The person is the product and that will never change.
Peter Block is an author and consultant. His work addresses empowerment, stewardship, chosen accountability and the reconciliation of community.
Block is the author of several books, including Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used ; Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest and T he Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work . He is the recipient of the first-place 2004 Members' Choice Award by the Organization Development Network.
Block has also authored Flawless Consulting Fieldbook & Companion: A Guide to Understanding Your Expertise ; The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters and Freedom and Accountability at Work: Applying Philosophic Insight to the Real World .
He is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers workshops he designed to build the skills outlined in his books. He received a master degree in industrial administration from Yale University in 1963, and he performed his undergraduate work at the University of Kansas .
Block serves on the Boards of Directors of Cincinnati Classical Public Radio, Elementz and InkTank. He is the first Distinguished Consultant-in-Residence at Xavier University . As a citizen of Cincinnati , Ohio , he is currently involved in a development project in Over the Rhine, a youth possibilities project, and a neighborhood connections safety project with the university. With other volunteers, Block began A Small Group, whose work brings into conversation other groups not in relationship with each other through the powerful tools of civic engagement.
He has received national awards for contributions to the field of training and development, including the American Society for Training and Development Award for Distinguished Contributions; the Association for Quality and Participation President's Award and Training Magazine HRD Hall of Fame.
Peter's office is in Mystic, Connecticut . You can visit his websites at www.peterblock.com, www.designedlearning.com and www.asmallgroup.net. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.