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The ONLY Best Way to Practice Consulting

You and your consulting firm are pretty spiffy. But does your firm employ the one, best consulting approach? Let’s find out.

You savor the evidence that your consulting firm produces excellent work. Glowing testimonials and multiple, word-of-mouth referrals provide ample evidence that your consulting firm consistently pleases your clients.

Yet, other consulting firms proceed quite differently from yours, and they, too, receive rave reviews from clients and word-of-mouth referrals.

That’s because the act of consulting is like making a souffle. The best producers follow at least a rough recipe, it’s harder to get right than you’d think, and there are myriad flavors, most of which result in client delight. (Though chocolate undisputedly tops the list.)

So, you already know the obvious answer to the lead-in question: your consulting firm does not employ the one, best consulting approach because there isn’t one best approach.

But wait. If you bite a bit deeper into this topic you’ll find a valuable, umami-rich reward.

One lesson 2020 sledgehammered into those of us residing in the USA is that there are people—a lot of people—who do not think what you think; who hold divergent and incompatible needs, desires, beliefs and values.*

You could simply accept that other people and other consulting firms are different from you, and blithely prance away or angrily shake your fist at the other side’s backward thinking.

Or, you could question your own beliefs and seek to understand other viewpoints.

As a consulting firm leader, choose the latter approach.

For your consulting firm to constantly up its game, you have to consider where your approach may be sub-optimal.

To win more clients, enhance your clients’ experience and enjoy higher fees, you have to dig into why other smart people might eschew the cherished concepts and practices your consulting firm tightly embrace.


At least once during every consulting engagement, formally face “The Challenge.”

The Challenge

  1. Create a challenger squad: at least one colleague who can help you tear apart your consulting work.
  2. Assign your challenger squad a mission: find at least one error in your consulting firm’s thinking. (Or the thinking of your project team.)
  3. Have the squad deeply question your project assumptions, your approach, your answers and the recommendations you plan to make to your client.
  4. Rather than justifying and defending your current ideas and work, your charge is to fully understand why your challenger squad thinks differently.
  5. Once you fully understand opposing points of view, then improve your work.

Pre-schedule The Challenge into your work plan. Literally build it into your project calendar.

Braving The Challenge on every project will prepare you to gracefully navigate different viewpoints. More importantly, you’ll regularly (if painfully) find opportunities to upgrade your consulting firm’s beliefs, ways of thinking, approaches and results.

Two next steps:

Schedule The Challenge into each of your firm’s current consulting projects.

Join a virtual challenge squad right now:

Post one assumption or approach you see other consultants make that’s often wrong.

  1. Sonja Robinson
    December 16, 2020 at 8:14 am Reply

    As a sole entrepreneur, getting the wider view is crucial as we often tend to stick to what we know. So thank you for the reminder and your insightful articles.
    Merry Christmas albeit different than other years.

    • David A. Fields
      December 16, 2020 at 10:19 am Reply

      You’re right, Sonja. Whether we’re in small or solo firms or part of a larger team, a broader perspective is crucial. Sometimes when you’re part of a team, groupthink sets in. It’s always worth a jab in the ribs with an uncomfortable perspective.

      Happy holidays to you too, Sonja, and thank you for commenting today.

  2. Derek F.
    December 16, 2020 at 8:26 am Reply

    This is great advice. Successful organizations are learning organizations. If you aren’t constantly learning, you are falling behind. This means being open to the possibility that what you learn will invalidate something that you thought was certainly true (like that everyone loves chocolate – it just gives me a headache).

    • David A. Fields
      December 16, 2020 at 10:21 am Reply

      First and foremost, the benefit of chocolate giving you a headache is you generously leave more souffle for everyone else. So, really you do love chocolate–it just serves a different purpose. (Consider that a challenger perspective!?)

      Your connection between learning and success is spot on, Derek. I’m glad you highlighted that!

  3. michael
    December 16, 2020 at 8:51 am Reply

    David, I love the Challenger concept, someone who is tasked to find a least one error in your thinking. You also wrote about beliefs and in my experience, we (and I) form opinions, then some of these opinions become beliefs then some of the beliefs become the truth. We tend to not question what we know is true. Often questioning what you know is true is the best place to start. maybe it is true or maybe it is not.

    • David A. Fields
      December 16, 2020 at 10:23 am Reply

      Oooh, that’s a terrific extension of the concept, Michael. That path from opinion to sacrosanct truth is often subtle and we don’t even see it happening. I’m glad you pointed that out and reminded me and other readers to question our truths!

  4. Gip Erskine
    December 17, 2020 at 7:03 am Reply

    As someone who’s just kicking off a coaching practice, I’m reminded of the concept that it isn’t that we don’t know so much. We know so much that isn’t so. Inspiring work (like my coaching practice) is poised to challenge the very premise on which it’s based. Nice article.

    • David A. Fields
      December 17, 2020 at 8:32 am Reply

      Congratulations on the new practice, Gip, and welcome to the community! What a great way to phrase it: “We know so much that isn’t so.” There are very few absolute truths when dealing with people–and, in our business, it’s all about people.

      I’m very pleased you shared your excellent insight, Gip.

  5. Lee Jones
    December 17, 2020 at 11:37 am Reply

    Often someone on a team wants to challenge an assumption or plan but is afraid to because the culture doesn’t embrace challenging or that they are new (or whatever). Your planned challenge gives that person an approved opportunity to challenge and also will make it easier to move the culture to acceptance of contrary ideas as a ‘sharpening the tool’ exercise. In my experience, just the exercise of evaluating the challenge so we understand our premise or can make an adjustment is valuable. And what if the client brings it up and you haven’t considered it? Oops.

    • David A. Fields
      December 17, 2020 at 5:56 pm Reply

      Your culture point is a good one, Lee. (As is your point about seeing your mistake in the safety of your team rather than in front of a client!)

      It can be very difficult for a junior person to question deeply held beliefs at a firm; however, if the stated purpose of the meeting is to hold up sacred cows for examination, then the task becomes easier. (Granted, you need to be a strong consultant to lift a cow, sacred or not.)

      Thank you for adding your valuable perspective, Lee!

      • James C
        December 24, 2020 at 6:41 am Reply

        Great article as always David. I’m willing to bet some chocolate this activity rarely happens – imagine how much value our clients would enjoy if we gave them the opportunity for their own Challenge?

        Another model that works really well and is also rarely used is Ed DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats ????

        (I love chocolate but it doesn’t love me back so I can relate to my friend there)

        • David A. Fields
          December 24, 2020 at 7:39 am

          Yes, DeBono’s work is great, James, and tapping into each of the roles is very helpful. Fortunately, many clients do challenge their consultant’s work. In fact, if you build collaborative work sessions into every project (which I’m sure you do), it creates the opportunity for give-and-take discussions that improve the value of your work.

          Thank you for raising those ideas, James!

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