Jethro (see Exodus 18) was an effective consultant because, in the end, he enabled Moses to discover and implement a positive solution to an obvious problem. The problem was real and urgent—Moses alone could not serve the scope of need represented by the nation. The solution was simple and doable—identify and appoint qualified leaders to assist with judging the issues that people were bringing. The process was agreeable and welcomed—both Moses and the people had their needs met in a way that seemed to satisfy everyone involved.
The effective consultant, who is able to influence positive change, must know—be—do certain things. By way of review, consider these questions from a different angle.
- Where can you contribute from experience and strength?
- When should you defer to another?
- How well do you really understand the context?
- How genuinely concerned are you for the best interest of another?
- What relational capital do you have or can you develop with another?
- How impartial can you be with the solutions offered?
- How well do you listen and observe?
- How frankly yet diplomatically can you speak into a situation?
- How articulately can you paint a picture of the solution?
- How long will you stay engaged to help see implementation occur?
These process-consulting principles can be fully applied in the home, in social circles or in the marketplace. A mother or school counselor can help a child develop a plan for higher education. A friend can help another with a job search. A consultant can help a supervisor determine a way forward through the complexities of business challenges.
How is a consultant different from a coach? The big differences are in the areas of personal expertise and experience. Consultants bring proven solutions to solving real problems; a coach brings a process of self-discovery to help a person get to a better place.
Unless “clients” learn to see problems for themselves and think through their own remedies, they will be less likely to implement the solution and less skilled to fix such problems should they reoccur. The ultimate function of process consulting is to pass on the skills of how to diagnose and constructively intervene so that clients are more able to continue on their own to bring improvement to individuals and organizations.
What value do you currently place on the consulting process? If time or cost is a concern, have you seriously considered the time and cost of forgoing the benefit of engaging a consultant? If finding a credible consultant is a concern, seek to clarify your need so you can inquire of who might have the needed expertise to help you find solutions. Far too often people live with problems that are solvable—like Moses trying to judge the entire nation by himself. Good stewardship demands finding our best solutions, which are often outside of ourselves.
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.
- 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.
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
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Our study in Exodus 18 of Jethro as an effective consultant continues with principles 4 and 5.
- 18:12 Fully participate in traditions. Jethro participated in the traditions that were naturally occurring. It is especially helpful when the consultant can observe and participate in meaningful activities planned during the visit. This builds relationship and allows for points of future reference.
- 18:13-16 Observe the context first hand. Jethro was able to observe the organizational situation Moses was in first hand. He saw the dynamics of how many people waited in line to see Moses and certainly many never got to talk to him. During this time of observation, Jethro was able to formulate his response based on actual happenings, not just what he was told.
Anyone can serve another by offering a “fresh perspective.” We all see through different lenses. The consultant has honed his or her skill to assess and evaluate a problem situation. Gaining a true understanding through observation and dialogue is critical.
As was discussed in the blog on systems thinking, ones initial solution to a problem is rarely the best. Deeper reflection reveals interconnected parts that impact the problem. The art of dialogue enables the consultant to suspend opinions and solutions in order to discern organizational culture values and habits that could impact the way forward. A great book to increase your art of dialogue is On Dialogue by David Bohm.
How skilled are you at observation? If you have not yet read the classic story of Professor Agassiz and the Fish you should educate yourself to enhance your observation skill: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/11/16/agassiz-and-the-fish/
Lyle Schaller, respected Christian author and practitioner, notes “the most serious shortage in our society is for skilled transformational leaders who possess the capability to initiate planned change from within an organization” (The Interventionist p.11). He believes that the core essentials of an effective interventionist are the ability to ask the right questions.
The consultant must be sensitive to the distinctive culture and be prepared to customize a strategy for each unique situation. The consultant wants to diagnose a situation well through observation and dialogue so the solution that is offered has a transformational effect. Even the highly intuitive person will see far greater results when growing the skills of observation and dialogue. The end result is to see new habits formed that will rectify bad or less than helpful behavior. To put Jethro’s experience in more modern terms, watch the three minute video by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. ((http://charlesduhigg.com/) This helpful explanation of introducing positive change will be taken up in the next blog.
Next blog: The Consultation Process