Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Consultant’s Goal

The 10th and final principle that emerges from a biographical study of Jethro, the Effective Consultant, deals with the outcome.  Every person hopes that the time and energy invested in consulting will result in some meaningful and lasting positive change.  Moses stayed his course in a difficult situation and with rather difficult people.  He saw some change but toward the end of his life he expressed the desire of his heart in Psalm 90:17, Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.  For the work of one’s hand to be confirmed, there must be enough time and energy directed wisely toward the effort without pre-mature disengagement.

  1. 18:24-27 Stay long enough to see suggestions begun. The better the analysis and recommendation the more likely the success of change.  However, there will often be obstacles never envisioned.  When the consultant can remain in the context long enough to view the initial movement toward change then he can serve as a resource for overcoming obstacles.  One can only imagine how Moses secured thousands of leaders (men were appointed over 10s, 50s, 100s, 1000s) who would serve as junior judges for the over 1 million adults who left Egypt.  Jethro certainly must have served his son-in-law long enough to figure out this leadership challenge!

The clearer the agreed upon outcome, the clearer the process can be.  Whether a parent is seeking to guide a child or an executive is seeking to bring change within an organization, thinking first with the end in mind is needed.  Major on the big issues; discipline yourself to overlook the “small stuff.”  In the end, sustainable, lasting, positive change will only happen when people are personally committed to the forward process.

The grandfather of organizational development, Edgar Schein, has written three books on the consulting process, and his most recent book hits the nail on the head from my understanding.  He approaches Process Consultation as helping people help themselves.  The central assumption to organizational learning and development is that “one can only help a human system to help itself.”  So, he defines process consulting as, “… the creation of a relationship with the client that permits the client to perceive, understand, and act on the process events that occur in the client’s internal and external environment in order to improve the situation as defined by the client.” (Schein, 1999. Process Consultation Revisited: Building the helping relationship. p. 20)

For people to want to help themselves they must value the help offered and have some degree of ownership.  In the non-profit world consulting is often expected to be free of charge (FOC).  When I am asked for advice I freely share since I am not dependent on such income to supplement my financial needs.  However, there is a real danger when consulting FOC.  We often value little that which costs us nothing.  An effective consultant must ensure people are committed to follow through on the change process.

The reward for consulting can be the satisfaction of helping someone get to a better place.  Jethro undoubtedly departed from Moses with great satisfaction knowing that his son-in-law had recruited help and delegated responsibility.  He stayed engaged long enough to see change begun.



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The Consultation Process

We continue our reflection on Jethro as an effective consultant.  One of the modern day authorities on consulting could have gleaned his insights from Jethro.  Peter Block in Flawless Consulting gives twelve steps for effective consulting:

1) Defining the initial problem

2) Deciding to proceed with the project

3) Selecting dimensions to be studied

4) Who is involved in the study

5) Selecting the method

6) Data collection

7) Funneling the data

8) Data summary

9) Data analysis

10) Feedback of results

11) Recommendations

12) Decision on actions

Very few leaders will learn or apply all of these disciplines.  Some steps come more naturally (intuitively) to certain leaders.  Each step has relevance for great outcomes.  We can see Block’s steps #10 and 11 in principles 6-9 in the life of Jethro from Exodus 18 below (principles 1-5 were discussed in prior blogs):

  1. 18:17 Advise honestly and directly. Jethro was able to communicate in a clear and honest way what he observed and his suggestion for a better solution.  He had an established relationship upon which to build.  What he shared was concisely stated and reasonable.
  2. 18:18 Show the benefit from several points of view. Jethro told Moses how the recommended change would help both him and the people.  It is best when the solution can serve to enhance several challenges facing the organization.
  3. 18:19-22 Offer advice and then let others decide. The consultant serves by observing, analyzing and recommending solutions.  He rarely is an active part of implementation.  One must give enough detail so the solution is understandable, clear and doable.  Certainly change can be fine tuned as implementation unfolds but the critical components for change must be identified at the start so the change process does not abort.
  4. 18:23 Clarify what the results could look like. People are helped when they can see a picture of how the change will make their life and organization better.  Before disengaging as a consultant it is beneficial to help those being served paint the picture of the preferable future.  This picture will linger and provide motivation through the change process.

When I get busy the last thing I want is more information and different perspectives.  I tend to plod along through my work, all the while trying to keep a smile.  My greatest felt need is for accomplishing… getting things done.  Can you identify with this scenario?

Even though multiple Proverbs affirm the value of wise counsel and lots of it, I can get blinded to my way of doing things.  It is easier to stay the known course than to change.

Moses was like this.  He had no paradigm for change and was wearing himself out through his dutiful servant’s heart.  Until, that is, God brought Jethro along.  After a brief time of re-acquaintance, Moses returned to his heavy-hearted, all-day work of judging the situations brought to him (Exodus 18: 13).  Jethro, the consultant, was able to help Moses see a better way forward that resulted in much blessing.

For whom can you serve as a consultant?  Who can you invite to help you as a consultant?  There could be a world of difference around the corner!


Next blog: The Consultants Goal

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