Speak only the truth
By Peter Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 05, 2009
Being able to address "the elephant in the room" or "the obvious major hurdle", when no one else wants to do so, is essential for the business consultant. If the client doesn't want to acknowledge or address the problem, that is its choice. But the consultant does not do either itself or the client a favor by ignoring a major problem just because it might be a sensitive subject.
As a consultant, one of the most difficult times to speak up is when the elephant is the person that walked you in the door. The temptation to "dance with the one that brung you" just to preserve the business opportunity is strong. However, the consultant needs to find some way of accessing a higher authority and presenting the business case against that person without prejudice.
At my company, some our greatest successes in consulting have come through telling a current or potential client the hard facts. That decision hasn't always resulted in revenue, but it has always moved our company in the right direction. Shying away from problems is easy. Confronting them builds character.
When I have to relate a "difficult fact" to a client, there are two things that I try to focus on: (1) presenting cost/benefit of solving the problem as opposed to leaving it in place; (2) displaying due consideration and appreciation for all perspectives, with charity toward all people involved.
Everything that you do in business should be performed with an eye towards long-term value and profit. Ultimately, that is the message that my company tries to deliver to the client when we recommend confronting a difficult situation or solving a problem. The goal is to turn liabilities into assets, to make strengths out of your weaknesses.
The reason why it is so hard to confront problems in business is partly because of the fear of what you might lose if you admit your failings. Fear of losing control, of losing one's job, of losing one's company, of losing the good opinion of one's coworkers, of having to change (or require others to do so), etc.
The value that the consultant brings to the table is expertise and objectivity. However, the consultant should never ignore the fact that many problems in business come from fear or other equally powerful (and often, to some degree, rational) emotions.
It has been said that "the truth may set you free, but it doesn't make you rich". That's as may be. The consultant's job is to speak the truth in the best way possible, and take the consequences. This is essential to being a good consultant, and surprise, surprise!... also essential to being a good Catholic.
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Nov. 07, 2009 10:13 AM ET USA
Amen! As partner in a business consulting firm, we are selective about engaging new clients. If we perceive that key leadership wants to "fix" others without being open to exploring how their own behavior impacts the rest of the organization, we will rarely engage. Issues below the top frequently mirror the top, including the practice of doing the "heavy lifting" of seeking/giving honest & caring feedback and healthy conflict, or not. Willingness to begin go there is a sign of hope. Mary