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Staying ahead of the game – a consultant’s guide

With no official body overseeing the industry and assisting with CPD, subcontracted consultants can find themselves very much on their own when it comes to professional development. Many consultants are driven to stay abreast of industry developments and they show a commitment to updating their skills and knowledge, but not all consultants are successful in staying ahead of the game.

Hiding something?

A research piece carried out by Kenzie Group indicated that clients working with consultants feel strongly dissatisfied by poor communication and the feeling that they can’t approach the consultant. Another big dissatisfier is the perceived arrogance of consultants.

I would suggest that many consultants wear a mask that looks rather like arrogance when it is in fact hiding a fear of admitting that there may be areas that they could do with some development in but don’t like to say.

From my own experience of working with technical consultants, the 50-somethings tend to work in the way that they have always felt comfortable with – the old ‘command and control’ communication and management methods – whereas the technical 30-somethings are focussed on data and instant metrics and they don’t generally do much talking.

Protecting the client

Joe Bond, the lead consultant at Kenzie Group, is a rarity in the dispute resolution field.

Not only has he continuously developed his professional skills to keep ahead, adding legal qualifications to his technical expertise over the course of his career, but he is also gifted with great empathy and emotional intelligence, which helps him to engage with people at all levels in the industry.

Joe is both people- and task-oriented. His DISC profile demonstrates he can influence others, remain aware of their worries and concerns, and also be direct and ‘just get on with it’ when the need arises.

This skillset helps Joe to build a rapport when meeting potential clients, but regularly comes up against a challenge when he takes on subcontracted consultants. While most are task-focussed people, not people-people, and this can leave the client feeling they have been mis-sold to.

Mentoring for success

How can subcontracted professionals be developed to improve their client facing skills and keep ahead of the game?

It takes honesty and self-awareness on the part of the consultant to admit to the possibility that their work might be suffering from poor people skills. It also takes deep pockets from the hiring consultancy firm to decide to develop these people who don’t actually work for them.

The most effective way to tackle this issue and develop people skills in subcontracted consultants is to mentor people on the job. This way, you can use real examples to offer your subcontractors alternative ways of communicating.

Firms taking action to implement subcontractor mentoring have three obstacles to overcome:

Letting the consultant know that their people skills are lacking.

Paying for subcontractor CPD.

Letting a client know that consultants are being developed on the job.

In the regulated industries, up to 80 per cent of CPD is focused on technical advancement, but 20 per cent deals with softer skills, such as how to communicate well with people, building trust, and all of that lovely stuff that makes relationships work.

Mentoring provides consultancy firms with a solution to the problem of subcontractors with poor people skills, and is well worth the time, cost and effort required to implement.

Your thoughts on how best to face this situation for the satisfaction of all would be very welcome – please post your comments!

Penny Whitelock, June 2016

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