What makes a consultant?

What makes a management consultant influential? Is it expertise, presence, power, network, process capabilities? Is it combining theory and practice, or continuous improvement through reflection on reflection in action?

Recent research about the influence of management consultants counts me as one of the most influential management consultants in the Netherlands. The research is based on an inquiry among colleagues in consulting. In the top 5 most influential management consultants I am in the company of wonderful colleagues. Two of them are doctorates I supervised. Two others are fellow professors with whom I have published regularly. We all combine academic research and consulting. This combination helps us to develop new approaches in organization change, support others, share knowledge and experiences, and reflect on our own profession. It seems valuable and useful to combine theory and practice. There is nothing so theoretical as good practice and there is nothing so practical as good theory and methodology.

Top 5 most influential consultants in the Netherlands

     2017      2005
  1. Hans Vermaak
  2. Jaap Boonstra
  3. Hans Strikwerda
  4. Léon de Caluwé
  5. Elsbeth Reitsma
  1. Hans Strikwerda
  2. Léon de Caluwé
  3. Roel in ’t Veld
  4. Pieter Winsemius
  5. Jaap Boonstra

 

In 2005 I was the youngest consultant in the list of influential consultants. Now, 12 years later the two earlier colleagues in the top 5 are older and two new ones are bit younger then me. It seems that influences comes with years of experience.

 

What makes a consultant?

Consultants encourage people in organizations in strategy development, aligning business processes, improvement of collaboration, innovation and sustainable change. They support managers to survive crisis situation, improve customer value and qualify for the future. Influential consultants have impact on the future of an organization and the contribution of organizations in society. It is an interesting question what makes a consultant influential.

 

Mindsets to become an influential consultant

Influential consultants have a worldly mindset and are conscious of developments in their environment. A strategic mindset helps to realize that the organization is a collective entity that achieves common purpose and qualify for the future. From a cultural mindset they are able to understand what is going on in the undercurrent and sense what people are concerned about. Based on a dynamic mindset they show the way by considering a meaningful combination of change strategies. Successful consultants build vital coalitions. This political mindset is connected with a collaborative mindset in order to realize change by bringing people together and organize teamwork to make renewal possible. With an action mindset they guide people in changing their organization. A reflective mindset supports them to be aware of themselves and others around them. This helps them to create meaning in the change process and add value to the purpose of the organization for customers and society.

 

Worldly mindset

Influential consultants have a worldly mindset that contributes to a deep understanding of the fundamental values in our society. They are conscious of their environment and willing to get into worlds beyond their own. Through sensitivity to what is happening in the world around them they see new possibilities. As a person they are curious, explorative and have broad interests. They are capable of seeing connections between varying developments and understand what an incidental disruption to a work system is and what symptoms of fundamental change are. Based on their worldly view, they are able to play a guiding role in strategic and cultural changes within organizations.

 

Political mindset

Strategic and cultural change comes down to forming vital coalitions with people who dare to change. Consultants in organizational change have an overview of the interests and power positions of the players on the internal and external playing field. They are capable to form a coalition of people inside and outside the organization who support the change and want to give shape to it. People in a vital coalition come from different backgrounds and have different areas of expertise. They value each other in that difference because they complement each other. Consultants are critical, committed people with their heart in society and business and with political capabilities to influence other people.

 

Strategic mindset

Influential consultants understand what the organization stands by and what it goes for, and they know what affects managers and co-workers. People with a strategic mindset are able to balance on the edges between the organization and the various worlds that surround it. They are explicit about what they believe is important and valuable. Consultants in strategic and cultural change name events, share interpretations and invite others to share their vision. Through this they create space for dialogue and give meaning in that. In these interactions, they contribute to the culture of organizations together with members of the organization and customers. They encourage others to tell stories and inspire other people through that.

 

Cultural mindset

Consultants are sensitive to the values of the organization and of the social and emotional motives and needs of people. They are socially conscious and aware of the values and standards of a social system they are part of. The cultural mindset goes truly inside the essential meanings of structures, processes and systems in the upstream. People with a cultural mindset listen to others and have the capability of trusting others and building trust. They are inspiring and they know how they have to operate administratively to solve conflicts and realize cultural changes. This enables them to connect the emotions and ambitions of others and they are able to direct the energy of the people in the organization to the future.

 

Dynamic mindset

Change has no meaning without continuity. Change leaders and consultants are faced with the task of meticulously developing a change approach based on a combination of change strategies and appropriate interventions to contribute to this continuity. They have a broad perspective on change strategies and make considerable choices in choosing and combining strategies for change. Change, to be successful, cannot follow some mechanistic schedule of steps, therefor people in change with a dynamic mindset deliberately pay attention to specific issues and events and make a choice about the change approach that is needed to bring about strategic and cultural change. In crisis situations, they step forward to identify the situation and tackle it, with the use of a combination of power and planned change strategies. In prosperous times, they are more likely to choose a gradual change and a continuous process of organizational development.

 

Collaborative mindset

Strategic and cultural organizational change is a collaborative effort of organizational members. Consultants collaborate with change leaders and use their influence to form coalitions of internal and external supporters who help give shape to the change. They actively involve other members of the organization and external interested parties in the articulation of a meaningful, attractive and feasible vision of the future. People with a collaborative mindset bring out the positive energy that exists naturally within people. Trust and space to experiment motivate others to get to work on a new vision in their own working environment and invite people to join in and experiment with renewal. Consultants with a collaborative mindset build networks, connect people, stay optimistic, show progress and make successes visible.

 

Action mindset

Changing organizations is an active and continuous process in which people in the organization change the way they work and live together. Influential consultants are able to mobilize energy around those things that need changing. Through their actions the way people work together changes, as do their interactions with customers. Consultants with an action mindset are sensitive aware of what the organizational members are capable in realizing changes, and thereby helping to set and maintain direction coaxing everyone along. Consultants who participate in a change often have an ambition that guides their actions and motivate them apply interventions to realize changes and to experiment actively with new ways of working. The action mindset pulls everything together through the process of change.

 

Reflective mindset

Influential consultants know themselves with their strong and weak characteristics. They know who they are and they know their own motives. There can be no collaboration in change without social and self-awareness. Curiosity helps to discover unwritten rules of the game and the underlying dynamics that guide behavior. A reflective and open mind is needed to understand the assumptions that are taken for granted. Meaningful consultants are accessible and can be approached, organize honest feedback and are not afraid to make emotions discussable. They are capable in self-reflection and have a learning attitude. They reflect thoughtfully on their experiences in the change process and involve others in a learning process to engage them in professional and organizational development.

 

Competences for effective consulting

Influential consultants have expertise and experience based on earlier practices and reflection on these practices. It is remarkable that the top 5 of influential consultants combine consulting with professional reflection, academic research and methodology development. They all publish about their experiences and contribute to the development of the consulting profession. They share knowledge and experience and invite others to do so.

 

Expertise, process consulting and intervening

Influential consultants have a broad field of expertise based on theory and practice. Next to expertise they are capable process consultants. The have a comprehensive view of change strategies and a wide range of intervention methodologies they are able to choose from. Related to the eight mindsets they have basic competences, which are essential in professional consulting[1].

 

Competences in consulting

Approach specific competences Intervention-specific competences
 

Expert approach
Market knowledge
Result orientation
Quality orientation
Functional management
Leadership qualities
Risk awareness
Entrepreneurship
Independence
Expert consultation

 

 

Process approach
Organizational context
Organizing ability
Building coalitions
Decisiveness
Positive energy
Coaching capabilities
Personal appeal
Restraint
Process consultation

 

Strategy and processes between people
Awareness of organizational context
Awareness of organizational dynamics

 

 

Structure, business processes and HRM
Planning and result orientation
Organizational ability

 

 

Governance and control
Boldness and problem solving
Attentions to details

 

 

Training, development and learning
Organizational learning
Training, development and coaching

 

Basic competences

Showing resilience:
flexibility, agility and humanity

Analyzing skills:
Analytical and conceptual thinking, creativity, learning orientation

Considering:
Balanced judgment, external awareness, generating vision

Facilitating:
Listening, sensitivity, social awareness, creating trustful atmosphere

Influencing:
Communication, presentation, inspiration, persuasion

Confidence:
Integrity, reliability, loyalty, independence, transparency

 

The top 5 influential consultants in the Netherlands combine expertise in specific areas with process consulting. The balance between these two approaches is depending on the issues they are working on and the people they are working with. They all have a broad perspective in fields of functional management and expertise in several business sectors. Over the years they have developed an intensive network, but most important perhaps: they are approachable and willing to show vulnerability because being an influential consultants does not mean that you have solutions for all issues people and business are confronted with.

 

 

[1] Based on a research of my colleagues Léon de Caluwé and Elsbeth Reitsma, both in the top 5 of influential consultants:
Competencies of Management Consultants. A research study of senior management counsultants. In: A.F Buono & D.W. Jamieson (Eds.). Consultation for organizational change. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2010, p. 15-40

4 Responses to What makes a consultant?

  1. herman Hekkers zegt:

    gefeliciteerd Jaap
    Blij dat ik van jou en Hans heb mogen leren

    • Beste Herman, leren is een mooi woord, omdat het voor mij altijd impliceert dat je van elkaar leert en daarmee elkaar verder helpt door het stellen van vragen, spiegelen en reflecteren. Leren is meer gelijkwaardig dan doceren of trainen. Dank dat we samen hebben kunnen leren.

  2. Shirine moerkerken zegt:

    Congratulations, Jaap, with the honour of Being called influential! I would-be Proud to be mentioned in such a list!

    The most known consultants are those who can and want to write and those who can Give lectures that ‘sell’.

    I Am not sure if the most known consultants are also the most influential, let alone the ‘best’ in their profession. Though

    The writer of the article seems to make that suggestion
    I Am a big fan of collegues that combine theory and practice and who take the time to write about our profession
    The best consultants i know unfortunately do not have the skills to sell themselves On stage or in the world of writing Books and articles
    In my humble opinion they change the world And therefore are the most influential consultants

    Maybe we can make a list of those people and honour them for the difference they make?

    • Dear Shrine, Thanks for your fair reflection. The list of most influential consultants is based on peer reviews, which means that consultants rate consultants who are most influential from their perspective. There might be some bias of course, related to this way of working. The persons on the list definitely contributed to the development of the profession and are influential to their own peers. And since I know them personally, I can assure you that they make a difference as well for the people they work with. From my perspective every consultant has to make a difference to the people and the organizations they engage with. Another question might be how transparent consultants can be about their contribution. Personally, I try to be transparant as much as possible by sharing my experiences in changing organizations and invite organizational members to do so as well because this contributes to anchoring results and sharing experiences. Publicizing is one way of being transparent and sharing expertise. My preference is to invite people from organizations who engage in the change proces to write their own story as a learning history. The chapters with practical examples in my latest book about changing societal organizations is a nice example of this way of working. Working this way I try to support people to reflect on the change process themselves and share experiences and knowledge with others. Truth, fairness, sharing and transparency may contribute to deep change and development of our profession. These values might be essential for every consultant who want to make a difference in a humble way.

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