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How Your Consulting Firm Can Be a Force For Good

Today’s an excellent day to briefly remind you of the good your consulting firm does, and the importance of understanding the “Why” behind your consulting firm’s engagements.

In all likelihood, your consulting firm doesn’t directly address widespread injustice, relieve oppression, or combat systemic prejudice.

Yet, your everyday actions leading a consulting firm are still a vital, positive contribution to the world.

A Force for Good

Amidst once-in-a-generation societal storms, your consulting firm’s work may sometimes feel inconsequential.

It’s not. You have every right to be proud of your consulting firm’s work, promote your offerings and continue to pursue consulting projects.

Your consulting firm’s very purpose is to help your clients solve problems and achieve aspirations.

You may help executives and line workers remain gainfully employed so that they can provide for their families.

Or, you may create better work environments, relieve anxiety, prevent operations from failing, or guide warring factions to act in harmony.

Perhaps you improve your clients’ marketing, internal communication, or ability to win customers.

Or maybe you accelerate implementation with practiced, capable consultants, an upbeat attitude and a steady stream of home-baked brownies.

Whatever the focus of your consulting firm, you deliver positive and beneficial results.

Your Clients’ “Why”

Behind every consulting opportunity is a “Why?” Behind every signed project is a Catalytic Event—a development that sparks your client’s commitment to change, his willingness to sacrifice (usually time and money), and his acceptance of risk to achieve progress.

A Catalytic Event precipitates the transition from smoldering discontent into a blazing, urgent demand for action.

It’s easy to see Catalytic Events in the broader world right now. They may not be in plain view at your clients, but behind every project there’s a Catalytic Event.

The more effectively your consulting firm uncovers Catalytic Events during the initial discovery process (a.k.a. the Context Discussion), the more success you’ll enjoy in winning consulting projects.

Don’t stop there. Drill down even deeper.

Look past the Catalytic Event that’s driving your consulting project.

What’s beneath the skin? What environmental factors grate against sensitivities? What values color perceptions? What complex history led your client to this point?

It’s incumbent on your consulting firm to understand your clients beneath the surface facts. To listen; to delve deep; to connect at a human level.

Your benefits from robust, attentive discovery will persist beyond winning the consulting engagement, through solution development and into the change process.

Change is hard, and you’re not alone if you frequently encounter stakeholders who resist your consulting firm’s efforts to improve the client’s situation, or who offer lip-service cooperation while undermining your efforts.

Hence, you can only create significant, lasting change with your clients by shifting patterns that have been years or decades in the making. By exploring and addressing uncomfortable, deeply-rooted conditions and causes.

And that’s what consulting is all about.

Creating a better world, in whatever lane you operate, is the heart and soul of your consulting firm. It’s a noble pursuit you can take pride in.

What do you improve? How is your consulting firm a force for good?


18 Comments
  1. Robyn Bolton
    June 3, 2020 at 6:22 pm Reply

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder David! I’ve seen other firms, some really big brand names, cancel webinars and virtual events this week and my initial reaction is always “damn, I was really looking forward to that. I really want/need that content right now.” There’s a way to be sensitive to external events AND to serve our clients. This is a good reminder that we need to do both.

    • David A. Fields
      June 3, 2020 at 7:07 pm Reply

      Bingo, Robyn. We need to do both. Serving our clients doesn’t mean we’re insensitive to external events! Thank you for highlighting that point!

  2. David Burnie
    June 3, 2020 at 6:32 pm Reply

    “In all likelihood, your consulting firm doesn’t directly address widespread injustice, relieve oppression, or combat systemic prejudice.” I disagree. I’ve seen it exhibited in small firms and large firms, on our consulting teams and at our clients. Have you ever looked at the makeup of consulting partners in a firm? Not many minorities or women are there? Ever staffed a project with a consultant you thought the client would “like” vs. one that was most capable? Perhaps the white male consultant would be best at bonding over a beer at a baseball game? I think the examples are everywhere. Us privileged white males haven’t had our eyes opened to the challenges and barriers that others have to overcome. The recent events have got me to thinking about what I, a white privileged male, can do to help others in the consulting profession. My thinking is evolving so would love to get ideas from others, especially those that have felt the sting of discrimination:
    – when hiring, set criteria for recruiters that 50% of candidates have to be from a group that is discriminated against (e.g., minorities, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, etc.)
    – recruit from schools that focus on diversity
    – use suppliers that have diverse leadership teams and staff
    – don’t consult with companies who are unprincipled and discriminate
    – support charities and causes that support discriminated-against communities. Tell everyone about it.
    – support kids in diverse communities and give them coaching and mentorship to one day be great consultants

    That’s a start – I’m sure there are a bunch of additional things I could do. Most important is to recognize that there’s a problem. Until the recent George Floyd protests I did not understand the ongoing bias that others have to live with on a daily / hourly basis.

    • David A. Fields
      June 3, 2020 at 7:10 pm Reply

      Well said, David. You’re right that we can, as individual consulting firm leaders, take steps that directly address the larger societal questions. (That said, you’re probably not going to change the focus of your firm from, say, strategic consulting for financial institutions, to solving poverty in third-world countries.)

      Good for you for modeling deep, thoughtful, action-oriented behavior. Your example is inspiring, David.

  3. Don McDermott
    June 4, 2020 at 8:35 am Reply

    Having gone through the 60’s and 70’s and done some volunteer work in that environment, I thought and pray we had made some progress. Current events hurt me with the violence. Pray for peaceful protest. We need to listen to all sides with respect then find the common ground = progress. Is not this part of being a consultant? at least part of a global family.

    • David A. Fields
      June 4, 2020 at 9:39 am Reply

      Amen, Don! Thank you for your activism during the civil rights and Vietnam eras (in the U.S.) and for your leadership today.

  4. Tom Huberty
    June 4, 2020 at 11:40 am Reply

    Thank you for the idea-starter, David. In the past, I have consulting engagements where I helped clients use the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence as an evaluation tool. In Item 1.1, organizations are queried about their community involvement. Recently, working with the Minnesota-based Performance Excellence Network (PEN), I have evaluated my own business against a portion of the Baldrige criteria. I was able to document how I have provided services pro bono to community organizations to help them find their “why” and then strategically move into underserved spaces. I used the PEN experience not only as a testament (Doctor: Do you take your own medicine?) but identified where I could do more, reserving a specified number of hours per month to use my skills and talents for further change.

    • David A. Fields
      June 4, 2020 at 12:28 pm Reply

      You’ve provided an excellent example, Tom. Excellence and quality mean more than satisfying clients, and our responsibilities as businesses transcend the money-making relationships. We’re part of larger communities, and how we support (or ignore) our communities helps define our consulting firms.

      Thank you for contributing your experience and insights, Tom.

  5. Catarina
    June 4, 2020 at 1:15 pm Reply

    Thank you for another fabulous thought-provoking article. A colleague recommended your site and after subscribing I quickly bought your book, so I am an avid fan! I’d have one request to make your blog posts resonate more – at least with me. Could you possible alternate (he/she/they) the pronoun you use for the client/leader or even just stick with ‘they’ more often? This will help more people see themselves in your articles, representation matters. As a caveat, I have not read all of your articles and can only base this on the few more recent ones that I managed to read and this is where I noticed it. Thanks so much and keep up the amazing work!

    • David A. Fields
      June 4, 2020 at 1:31 pm Reply

      Welcome to the community, Catarina and thanks for jumping into the fray!

      Your gender pronoun request is fair. Every once in a while we throw in some diversity and there’s always a question internally about how to make the gender pronouns invisible rather than a distraction. My publisher was absolutely insistent that “they” wasn’t acceptable for singular, 3rd person usage, and I’ve generally followed the publisher’s guidance.

      Given the spirit of the article and the importance of expressing and listening to where people are coming from, your comment earns a gold star. Thank you for sharing, Catarina.

      • Catarina
        June 4, 2020 at 4:00 pm Reply

        Thanks for the quick reply and your responses to commenters, another sign that this is an engaged community! A good resource to share with your publisher might be the work that the APA style guide has done, see here (shorturl.at/ioAFJ)

        “APA endorses the use of “they” as a singular third-person pronoun in the seventh edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. This means it is officially good practice in scholarly writing to use the singular “they.” ”

        I especially find it helpful when they say that “writers should use the singular “they” in two main cases: (a) when referring to a generic person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context and (b) when referring to a specific, known person who uses “they” as their pronoun.”

        • David A. Fields
          June 5, 2020 at 11:19 am

          Thanks for the tips, Catarina. No doubt the use of gender pronouns will continue to be a subject of debate and questions for years to come. (Gender identity is a fascinating and complex topic that I’m definitely not well qualified to opine about.)

          Overall, as consultants, our writing and word choice should serve the message, not be the message!

          I’m glad you’re engaged in the conversation, Catarina.

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