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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Competences in consulting
|Approach specific competences||Intervention-specific competences|
Strategy and processes between people
Structure, business processes and HRM
Governance and control
Training, development and learning
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.
 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