Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Consultant's Bible

I recently volunteered to help a wonderful team of organizational consultants under the auspices of the Massachusetts Bay OD Learning Group. Six of us banded together two months ago to provide our combined expertise in the service of a local nonprofit. When we started, we were all strangers with no leader and only a vague idea where we might find a client ready to join our hoped-for summer project.

Our experience so far has been thrilling. We have melded our diverse professional strengths into a collaborative team and established a strong relationship with our client. (I might add that we found our client by networking, of course, employing the power of both network closure and structural holes in the process.)

Things are really "clicking" in every aspect of our project. There are plenty of reasons why, but I want to highlight one in particular right now. It's an easily accessible resource that two months ago provided our group of leaderless strangers with a powerful shared vision of authentic consulting.

Peter Block published Flawless Consulting in 1981 and the book has since gained wide acclaim as the Consultant's Bible. Before I read the book, I was put off by its pretentious title, but having read it I am now a true believer. When Block says "flawless" he doesn't mean know-it-all perfectionism. He means being authentic at every stage of the consulting engagement. In particular Block stresses that consultants must not only respect client wants but also directly and openly ask for their own.

A book with a philosophy like that could be handy in managing all kinds of relationships, but Block adds lots of specifics just for consultants (be they internal or external). He covers at length many aspects of consulting, including contracting, client resistance, diagnosis and discovery, data collection, feedback, engagement, and implementation. The goal of Block's approach in each step is to build a 50-50 authentic collaboration between consultant and client, and thereby maximize the impact of the consultant. Block's book is also very practical. Each chapter overflows with examples of consultant-client dialogue that get his point across as if you were watching a live demonstration.

No matter what your area of expertise, if you want your professional advice to have impact even when you don't have the authority to insist, Block's Flawless Consulting should be on your bookshelf.


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