The 3Rs of Success in Consulting

I ran across a great story at this week.

The Oldest Profession…

A medical doctor, an engineer, and a management consultant were arguing about what was the oldest profession in the world.

The doctor started… “Well, in the Bible, it says that God created Eve from a rib taken from Adam’s body. This must have required surgery, and so I can claim with a high degree of confidence that mine is the oldest profession in the world.”

The engineer responded, and said, “But earlier in the book of Genesis, it states that God created the order of the heavens and the earth from out of the chaos. This was the first and certainly the most impressive application of civil engineering. Therefore, dear doctor, you are wrong: mine is surely the oldest profession in the world.”

The management consultant leaned back in his chair, smiled, and then said confidently, “Ah, but who do you think created the chaos?”

As a consultant, I know we do not want to create chaos, but as a client of consultants, I have experienced plenty of it in the wake of consulting engagements.  Sometimes that is by design, i.e. a cost cutting initiative engagement (I still have nightmares about one of those)!  Other times it is due to poor consulting!  As a full-time healthcare executive, and a part-time consultant, I have strong opinions on what it takes to be a successful consultant.  Here are what I have found to be the 3Rs of Success in Consulting:


No matter what expertise a consultant has, or why he or she is engaged, the fact is that that the client is an expert on his or her company.  If there is no other reason to respect the customer, that one is enough.  A successful engagement requires application of knowledge and expertise to the client’s situation.  The client is half the equation.  The consultant must acquire the knowledge of the company’s landscape from the client, and, in order to do that, they must respect that reality and engage the client as a peer, not as an instructor to a student.


While the consultant must respect the client,someone has determined that the client needs the consultant, or the consultant would not be in the door.  The consultant must be willing to  take risks.  After learning about the client’s situation, he or she must challenge the status quo.  Often that is the main reason a consultant is brought in.  An internal champion may be trying to to implement change and needs an outside expert to break a political or intellectual log jam, or even to have a scapegoat to blame if the change the client wants to try does not succeed.  Another scenario might be leadership as a whole is completely overwhelmed by crisis and needs an outsider with expertise to look objectively and see what, if anything, can be done to find a way through the morass to success.  Whatever the reason, it is almost certain that a consultant would not be needed if nothing needs to change.  Being a change agent takes courage.  A consultant is mocked for causing havoc and leaving, but that is just what they have to do!  It is their job to disrupt the status quo.  The next R of Success for Consulting is what will separate good consultants from the great…


After the dust has settled,and the client has established their new routine as a result of the disruptive ideas brought by the consultant, what if the consultant returned… on his dime?  What if, instead of what we have come to expect, the consultant came back in and dealt with the clean-up?  Would that separate him from the pack?  Assuredly!  That is a strategy for consultants that is fairly easily to implement.  This will be beneficial for the client in case there is a wrinkle that has happened that had not been anticipated by what the consultant gleaned about the company during implementation.  It will also benefit the consultant, educating him on the realities of the aftermath, helping him to improve that for his or her clients in the future.  I would suggest that the consultant set up his fees to allow for a return visit equal to 25% of the engagement and build that 25% into his fee structure, or consider it a cost of referral development.

So the 3 Rs above are what it takes to create success for the client.  Today I am running a special, and I am throwing in 3 more Rs to help the consultant succeed for the same low price.  Consultants, these are for YOU:


In order for a consultant to succeed, you must be recognized as an expert.  Whether you get that by leading successfully in the market place for 30 years, or you collect all the colored belts from Lean Six Sigma training, or both… People only pay for something if they have a reason to believe the person they are paying can deliver the goods.


Once you are recognized by someone as the holder of valuable expertise, leverage that by networking with that person to expand the number of people that believe that, thereby expanding your potential client base.  If you impressed a former boss, renew that connection.  If you impressed a trainer in Franklin Covey’s 4 Disciplines of Execution training, do the same.  Write about what you know and make it available in forums that people can access, thereby building your brand.  Speak on local radio shows, or at community groups that might have an interest in the things you have to offer for free.  Let all these people know you are available to help.  As your network expands, ask your contacts that now recognize you as an expert if they know of anyone you might be able to serve?


Remember that return trip I suggested consultants make to cement the new world they helped to create?  It creates a fantastic opportunity to get  referrals from the clients they just helped.  Even the skeptics will give you referrals if you circle back after a successful engagement.  At that point, they know it has had a positive impact.  Of course, it will not work if all the consultant really did was create chaos.  But, wouldn’t you want to know if that was the case anyway?

Above all, these rules reflect that the successful consultant is the one who serves the client well, and is, therefore, in a position to ask for the chance to do that for others as well.  Go make it happen!

4 thoughts on “The 3Rs of Success in Consulting

  1. I think Recognition is key here, (in my opinion). While I think all your other points are very important, Recognition is over-estimated these days. Many people are what I like to call “introducers”, not consultants. Mostly in fact that you can, through digital media, make yourself out to be the rockstar you are not. See this blog post here:

  2. Regarding the respect principle, I think it is important to recognize that the consultant cannot be as informed as the client, even when there may be individual or organizational defensive routines. Engaging the client in seeing and understanding blind spots can be essential, however that does not make the consultant smarter, nor more aware of overall organizational conditions. And finally, the client has to live with the decisions made, so consultants must respect the client’s prerogative of choosing among options that may be obvious and which the consultant helps the client discover.

    Regarding risk, I continue to be perplexed by the dilemmas internal clients often face, of doing what they determine with key client contacts and careful assessment is in the best interests of the organization, or instead doing what is politically correct. Why is it that the most effective of internal consultants are often forced to move on after being most effective in fostering the changes most needed? Even when the changes are clearly needed, highly beneficial, and greatly valued by those most impacted, often those doing the direct work, do people in administrative power positions often come to resent the trust bestowed upon the consultant, and pretend the valuable changes made were unrelated to the consultant’s work with the organization?

    Any insights others can offer will be appreciated, especially ways of making internal consultants who take necessary risks less vulnerable to power hungry leaders who resist engaging others in beneficial change.

  3. This should have read: Regarding risk, I continue to be perplexed by the dilemmas internal CONSULTANTS often face, of doing what they determine with key client contacts and careful assessment is in the best interests of the organization, or instead doing what is politically correct. Why is it that the most effective of internal consultants are often forced to move on after being most effective in fostering the changes most needed? ……

    • Hey Bill. Can you explain what you mean when you say “internal consultants.” I have some thoughts on your comments, but want to make sure I am on the right track.

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