Consulting is often a frustrating experience for clients—and no more fulfilling for the consult- ants concerned even though they get their fee.
But consulting doesn’t have to be like this. A consultant-client relationship that flourishes is actually a good indication that effective consulting is taking place. It reflects
the client’s sense that his or her aspirations for the assignment are being steadily realized and the consultant’s
sense that she or he is fully contributing. A healthy relationship and successful outcomes go hand in hand; management consulting can be a practically and emotionally
rewarding experience for clients and consultants.
Positive consultant–client affiliations develop in
a particular way as assignments progress. Based on
research, this article lays out the way that happens.
Before now, research into successful consulting rela-
tionships has analyzed a few critical success factors
or provided practitioner narratives (such as those of
Peter Block and Geoffrey Bellman). In contrast, this
research offers a concise, structured description of the
association as it develops.
The description synthesizes the detailed experience
of several consultants, including the author. The methodology utilized—known as phenomenology—was
qualitative rather than quantitative so the authenticity
and complexity of what people said have been retained.
From it, an aide memoire has also been derived so that
consultants and clients can assess the health of their own
DESCRIPTION OF FLOURISHING
Here is the synthesized description of what consultants said about flourishing consulting relationships:
1. From the start, we find substantial common ground
with our clients in terms of our mind-sets, values, beliefs, interests and behaviors. We have a sense that each
is coming from broadly the same direction, that we
share similar views about the world, talk the same language and see eye-to-eye on issues. The clients and us
feel passionate about what we are doing, that something
is at stake that both value.
2. We go through a process of emotionally engaging with
the client as the relationship gets going: letting each other
in, reciprocating gestures and showing affirmation of each
other’s ideas. We come to like, respect and feel accepted
by one another. We ‘hang in there’ with a strong sense
of personal connection despite the peaks and troughs experienced thereafter. There is mutual affection. We enter
into each other’s minds, emotions and perspectives and
empathize with one another, even learning from the frustrations we have with each other. We come to trust each
other. Neither feels superior or wants to be in charge. We
become energized about what we are doing, enjoy working together and think more of giving than getting. We
Developing Flourishing Consultant-Client Relationships
BY DR. RICHARD B. DAVIS