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2 On the Client’s Expectations: Why Hire a Consultant?

2 On the Client’s Expectations: Why Hire a Consultant?

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4  The Client-Consultant Interaction

4.Consultants can coach and supervise tasks with expert social skills (Sales

Director in Ref. [48])

5. Consultants can be used as political weapon [115, 133]

6. Consultants provide additional assistance at no cost –go the extra mile [115, 134]

7. Consultants provide customized solutions with concrete implementation planning [129]

8. Consultants provide expert advice [129, 135]

The consultant and client’s perspectives overlap well. These insights were

derived from diverse surveys including hundreds of professionals, most of whom

also expressed drawbacks and challenges not listed here (e.g. in Refs. [48, 129]).

Now in order to build both on positive and negative feedbacks gathered from large

scale clients’ surveys, Steven Appelbaum [129] developed an elegant mathematical

model of overall client satisfaction from a client’s perspective. His team gathered

the ratings of 102 officers on more than 50 different aspects of the consultant’s

interventions. Using the mathematical framework of machine learning described in

Chap. 7, where a data set is used to “learn” how well a set of variables (referred to

as independent variables) may be used to predict the value of another variable

(referred to as the dependent variable), they created a model that relates overall

satisfaction with different aspects of the consultant’s intervention2.

The final result in Appelbaum’s study is that a client will give a high rate for the

overall project success if, in order of importance:

1 . Solutions took into account the client’s internal state of readiness

2. Project included prototyping new solutions

3. Project deliverables were clear

4. Consultant partnered with the project team throughout

5. Consultant was professional

6. Consultant understood the client’s sense of urgency

This list represents an elegant data-driven recommendation toward a successful

consulting intervention, as prescribed from the client‘s perspective.

Earlier in this chapter we noted the importance of both cultural and political

dimensions in the client-consultant relationship. In terms of “expectation”, these

dimensions underscore the importance of unwritten psychological expectations

[115] in addition to more concrete technical expectations. The technical expectation

denotes an in-depth expertise that the client does not a priori possess. The psychological expectation denotes the consultant’s overall communication skills and receptiveness to political needs, his/her pragmatism with what can and what cannot be

 The strange and curious history of lobotomy did reach a scientific consensus: as put by an anonymous online blogger (below BBC article from H Levinson accessible at www.bbc.co.uk/news/

mobile/magazine-15629160): “The science behind it is actually quite solid. The problem comes

from trying to cut specific connections, which in the early twentieth century was like trying to

destroy an invisible needle in a haystack with a bazooka”.


4.3  Ethical Standards


achieved, his/her aptitude to read the environment and fit in the client’s team, listen,

empathize and provide counsels without charging additional fees [136, 137].

No two consulting projects might ever be the same. Thus, the client cannot know

in advance what he/she is exactly buying before he/she gets it [48, 120]. The quality

of the interaction, before and during the assignment, will inform the client and calibrate how he/she evaluates the quality of the final deliverable. The take away is that

the client’s expectation is never completely set in advance. The readiness and quality of the evolving relationship determines the success of a consulting project. It

drives the nature of the client’s contribution to the solution, and by adjusting his/her

expectations governs his/her level of satisfaction.


Ethical Standards

Management consulting codes of ethics are available through different sources.

Most consulting organizations have developed their own codes, but these share similar guidelines. A concise summary is reported below, based on the Association of

Management Consulting Firms (AMCF [138]), the Institute of Management

Consultants (IMC [139]) and Refs. [7, 130, 140]:

1. Use of data

One shall not distort data to one’s advantage nor use it to deceit, punish, or


2. Professional & technical readiness

One shall not distort or misrepresent one’s background, capabilities, or


3. Confidentiality & conflict of interest

One shall not use confidential information from a client to provide competitive advantage to another client, nor disclose information to any group or individual, internal or external, when this information is likely to be used in

contradiction with the first rule of consulting.

4. Coercion & collusion

One shall not coerce any individual into disclosing information that they prefer to keep private, nor intentionally collude with some group or individual

against any other group or individual.

5. Openness & promise of realistic outcomes

One shall openly communicate the anticipated implications of the proposed

course of action.

6. Disclosure of fees

One shall disclose in advance all fee incurred by the recommended intervention, and set forth fees commensurate with the service delivered.


4  The Client-Consultant Interaction


The First Interview: Defining the Case and Objectives

The telephone rings. An executive has some concerns about her organization and the consultant has been recommended as someone who could help. After a brief description of

some of the problems and a discussion of the extent to which the consultant’s expertise is a

reasonable fit for the situation, an agreement is made to pursue the matter over a meal or

through an appointment at the executive’s office [7]

The initial phase that leads to a consulting project is notoriously similar across different generations, organizations, problems and industries. It emphasizes the importance of networking and referral systems in the consulting business model [141].

4.4.1 Goals of First Meetings

The first face-to-face meetings aim at exploring the rational and objectives of the

client’s request. They typically involve a client top executive and a consulting partner, and in subsequent meetings they start to gather teams on each respective side.

Some key topics that preface the start of an assignment are who, how, when, and

where (and for how much…).

Who: What group on the client’s side will be the starting point of the


What group on the consultant’s side will be a reasonable fit?

How: In what similar circumstances did the client or consultant meet before, how

did he/she proceed?

When: What would be an appropriate time frame?

Where: Where would the consultant carry on the different phases of the project?

As pointed out by French and Bell [7], an overriding dimension in these preliminary discussions is the extent of mutual trust that begins to develop between consultant and client. Already at this stage, the aspect of “compensation” entails both

financial and psychological contracts.

4.4.2 Sample of Questions Consultant-to-Client

Here is a sample of questions that the consultant might ask to better understand the

organization’s circumstances (adapted from Ref. [142]):

1. What are your top priorities, what would success look like to you?

2. Where did the problem originate?

3. How ready is the organization for change?

4. What are the current measures in place to solve the problem?

5. What do you think are the root causes of the problem?

6. What are the top challenges that are acting as barriers to success?

7. What actions do you think we should take?

4.4  The First Interview: Defining the Case and Objectives


8. Who else should we be talking to?

9. Who will be making the decisions?

10. Is there anything else we should be asking you?

4.4.3 Sample of Questions Client-to-Consultant And How

to Respond

The client will look for the consultant’s ability to adapt to the client’s organization

landscape, get the ball rolling, and whether he/she has experience in a similar business scenario. Here is a sample of questions that the client might ask (adapted from

Ref. [143]):

1 . What were your previous client landscapes?

2. What was your role? What was your team’s working model?

3. How did you implement a similar business scenario in the past?

4. What was your support structure at your previous client projects?

5. What value did you add at your previous client projects?

6. What best practices did you use before? What were the challenges?

7. How do you keep up with innovation as a consultant?

How to Respond?

The presence of a consultant in an organization automatically instills some psychological expectation from the organization, and the impression that something is

needed from its members [115]. The client thus inspects the consultant’s soft communication skills very closely. Sounding polite and professional, being confident

and pragmatic, talking slow, are pre-requisites for the meeting to be successful. If

the project involves a specific technology or industry expertise, then the consultant

should also convince the organization’s members of his/her technical acumen.

Great communication skills and actual content may lead to an excellent relationship,

efficient trust building, and collaborative planning. Yet the hallmark of professional

consultancy would not be fully introduced if we forgot to talk about the terminology

(a.k.a. buzzwords) that consultants employ. The words used by consultants are often

an efficient marketing tool for brand identification. McKinsey-ites for example refer

to their mastery of hypothesis-driven thinking. BCG-ers refer to their proprietary

concepts of portfolio matrix and experience curve.

The “creation of consulting fads” is one of the most cited critics against the

management consulting industry in the pervasive model3. But again, a line should

be drawn between what is pure wandering between business concepts that randomly

connect with the situation at hand, and what is in contrast a prerequisite for efficient

 For a vivid illustration, see Don Cheadle’s outstanding acting performance in the first client meeting that takes place in the first episode/first season of the comedy television series House of Lies



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