Reflections on being a management consultant

Being a management consultant - tips and reflections

Much of my time as a management consultant has revolved around helping managers build stronger, more cohesive teams. My purpose in this blog post is to share some of my experiences, lessons learned, and what I found to be best practices as a management consultant. Before I do, the first course of action for you is to ensure you know exactly what the manager wants. Trust me, get this information sooner rather than later.

It is complicated to clarify mid-stream. Having clear, succinct objectives will give you something to work towards and to measure your deliverables against.

Most of my career has been that of a training consultant.

One of my specific areas of expertise is team building and facilitating team cohesion. Building community comes easy for me, and I love leveraging the inner workings of psychology and adult learning theory to help leaders cultivate that sense of belonging within their teams.

The job that launched much of this was my ten years as a training manager for a capacity-building nonprofit organization.

Where it began for me…

Before being a management consultant,
I worked for a capacity-building organization.

A capacity-building organization, also known as a capacity-building nonprofit or institution, is an entity dedicated to enhancing individuals, groups, or other organizations’ abilities, skills, knowledge, and resources to better achieve their goals and objectives. The one I worked for was called YouthNet of Greater Kansas City.

It was such a cutting-edge organization.

Anyway, these types of organizations typically focus on strengthening the capacity of nonprofit organizations to address specific issues or challenges effectively.

Our area of expertise was training and education. We provided training programs, workshops, and educational resources to improve the skills and knowledge of their target audience.

This training may cover various topics, such as leadership development, project management, financial management, etc.

Supporting and Guiding Managers

We also provided technical assistance to managers and individuals who did the front-line work.

This means we offered expert guidance, consultation, and technical support to help individuals and organizations overcome challenges, implement best practices, and optimize their operations.

The area we focused on was a very transient employment field. As a result, part of my job was supporting the managers I was assigned to retain talent.

That is where being a management consultant began for me.

The feedback I received supporting my clients was consistently positive. When I left the organization, being asked to provide similar resources as a consultant was a wonderful surprise!

The Skill Set of a Successful Management Consultant

1. Be an analytical thinker

The first skill you need being a management consultant is the ability to think and act analytically.

Here are some of the analytical skills you need being a management consultant are the ability to gather, interpret analyze information to extract meaningful insights and make informed decisions.

You will need to see things that haven’t really been communicated. This means over time; you need to gain the experience to instinctively know the questions to ask to get to the heart of a situation or problem.

Further, the ability for critical thinking and exceptional problem-solving abilities will help you coach and support your manager clients. 

An Example

Years ago, I met a manager at a Penn Valley Community College nonprofit assembly.

Just in casual conversation, she said she couldn’t figure out how to “reach” her team. They were so aloof.

See, she was hired from outside the organization after several layoffs happened within the organization. Essentially, it was part of restructuring, and the layoffs work nothing more than a byproduct of that.

After about a year with her team, the emotional distance seemed to widen despite all her efforts. 

As you know, to motivate the team, she had to feel a sense of connection to them and them to her. It’s very difficult to coach an individual who does not like or trust you.

A team with solid cohesion will support one another and perform optimally because they feel a responsibility to and for one another.

She wanted to develop a team, not just a group of people. As Sheryl A. Friedley and Bruce B. Manchester from George Mason University stated in their document called “Building Team Cohesion: Becoming “We” Instead of “Me,” teams have “shared commitment” and are devoted to achieving the same goals – together. Read more here. Groups do not necessarily have that same bond.

I’ll bet you have been part of more workplace groups than you have workplace teams! I know I have.

Being a management consultant - what I've learned

Random: While this woman is NOT my client, she looks like her. Like really!

Management by fear or employees doing what you tell them to do ONLY because you told them is not the same thing. In those cases, you can only issue directives, and directives do not build teams.

“Maybe it’s because they see me as a ‘kid.'”

She told me the distances could be because because she looked so young.

Although in her thirties, she really did look like she was 19.

Managing a team of 9, I’d say half of them were twice her age. While this can create a challenge for some younger managers, this was not her problem. 

I need it to try and figure out what the problem was.

Being a management consultant requires taking a 360-degree perspective. I like to start with the team and work my way up to exploring management dynamics. 

After sitting in on about 3 (maybe 4) staff meetings, I learned the issue wasn’t so much her personally but something I couldn’t put my finger on at the time. 

I needed to talk to the team individually AND collectively. 

After some time and proper approvals, she allowed me to schedule one-on-ones with each person and the opportunity to talk to them before a staff meeting. The information-gathering session that occurred before a staff meeting was based on a focus group model. This is a great article on focus groups by Scribbr.com.

 For each encounter, I had a series of questions to ask. But first, I said something like this:

“My primary objective is to ensure that the information provided remains completely anonymous and confidential. Rest assured, any input I share will be compiled into a report highlighting common themes and concepts without divulging specific quotes or attributions to individuals. Your trust and privacy are of utmost importance to me.”

Ultimately, I discovered the problem was that the nonprofit organization had financial issues.

How the executive tier handled it bred mistrust and was misleading and disrespectful, as the employees perceived it. 

A couple of staff members expressed that they “had no problem with [the manager]…and didn’t even know her.” However, they didn’t trust her.

In my summation, the results of the info-gathering had common themes for the most part. I say “for the most part,” because one staff member expressed that she did not like the manager but couldn’t or didn’t feel comfortable saying why. There’s always one.

Anyhoo, her team didn’t know her and had some residual issues from the restructuring; as a result, did not trust her.

Aha!

They had to know her better to trust her. Without trust, you will never have a genuine, meaningful connection with anyone, right? 

We opted to do a True Colors workshop!

She was able to schedule a 4-hour block for the team to become familiar with one another’s strengths and stressors. It also provided them an opportunity to see her in another; it’s just become a normal, more relaxed, and casual environment.

I recommended the event occur outside of the office –as the office represented some form of oppression and betrayal. They did not have a budget, so I suggested the most excellent public library in our area.

Analytical skills got us to a solution.

Being a management consultant means you have to think out of the box and drive strategic initiatives to improve productivity and operational efficiency and optimize performance. 

You need to see the problem, be an ethnographer when possible, and immerse in the team dynamic so you can figure out what is at the core of a situation. If that doesn’t work, then you have to analyze the dynamics of the situation and narrow them down one by one. I did this twice.

After my first idea revealed nothing (i.e., bombed), I widened my net and realized I had to dig deeper.

2. Be a strong communicator

Being a good consultant for managers means you are also a good communicator.

Communication for a consultant is truly a dance of understanding. It starts with active listening, as consultants strive to grasp the unique needs of their clients deeply.

By asking insightful questions, they ensure no stone is left unturned, crafting solutions that truly hit the mark. The art lies in presenting complex ideas and recommendations in a way that is clear, concise, and remarkably engaging.

Consultants recognize the importance of transparency keeping clients informed through regular updates and progress reports.

This builds trust, as clients feel comforted and empowered throughout the journey. Consultants act as guides when challenges arise, offering reassurance and clarity during critical decision-making processes.

They navigate conflicts gracefully, addressing issues with empathy and diplomacy, always striving to maintain and strengthen positive client relationships.

3. Manage the Relationship

Think “person first” and “client” second.

Client Relationship Management (CRM) is a strategic approach that involves building, maintaining, and enhancing relationships between a business and its clients.

My clientele was often a “one and done” type dynamic because I was a training consultant more so than a management consultant.

Most of my management consultant gigs derived from my designing AMAZING training sessions.

Here’s why: after a training or workshop, the clients frequently wanted to learn strategies to implement the training content and make it sustainable as part of the organizational culture.

This created a relationship – not just a one-time service. I no longer consult and miss being a management consultant (sometimes), but I still have relationships with many of my clients.

That’s all because I leveraged CRM!

Plus, CRM enabled me to maximize customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention. If something didn’t work, they felt comfortable telling me.

Or if I was having coffee with one of them, I was like a beagle listening for what was important to them. People will tell you …you just have to know how to listen for values and coordinate.

Managing these relationships means you will be able to understand your clients, anticipate their preferences, and provide personalized experiences, ultimately leading to increased satisfaction.

This means you will build relationships. The only way to meet anyone’s needs is in the context of the relationship.

Best part: you don’t need software – you just need to take good notes and listen! However, if you are looking for a free software or service, check out this video:

Other considerations for being a management consultant

  • Remember that “relationship” is not the same as “friendship.” Be careful mixing personal elements with business relationships. No client wants to see you tipsy during dinner. Nor do they want to be treated unprofessionally just because they have a good rapport with you. Just be careful that the professional you are not compromised by the “off-the-record” you.
  • Charge appropriately. See my post on charging as a training consultant. It may give you some ideas.
  • Put it all in writing. You need a contract or, at the very least, an agreement outlining how you will support your client’s desired outcomes. Include milestones and timelines.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for ANYTHING you need to be successful for your client.