Three Consultant Models:
The Upside and Downside of Each

For some reason I started thinking about the consultants with whom I've worked over the years. The range goes from highly procedural, detailed trainers to creative geniuses who think at 30,000 feet on their low-altitude days.

As consultants came to mind, I started to compare and contrast them, thinking about their consulting models. There seemed to be three general categories of consultants:

  1. The find-a-product/strategy-and-ride-it-to-the-end
  2. The Professional Change Artist
  3. The Adaptive Consultant.

This is not about judging which model or approach is better than the others. Each has assets and potential liabilities.

For example, the consultant who develops a certain product or skill set and uses it in every engagement tends to develop high levels of expertise in that particular approach. He or she may be better at it than others who also provide the product or service to their clients. The downside is that they are vulnerable to the "if the only tool you have is a hammer, you may tend to see every problem as a nail." This particular downside can lead to the application of the approach to challenges that are ultimately unrelated.

The change artist tends to pursue every new, high visibility tool or approach that comes along. The upside of this consultant is that she or he has a wealth of information about a wide variety of tools and techniques. In many cases, they have knowledge about and/or access to information related to a wide range of client issues. The potential liability is that the consultant may not accumulate depth in a given tool or approach to see if and where it works or doesn't. Further, you may not be certain what or who you are getting because the latest thing may be on the way.

The third category, the adaptive consultant, seems to lie somewhere between the two. This consultant will choose tools and techniques and build corresponding knowledge bases about key areas related to the particular areas in which she or he works. At the same time, there is probably a constant vigilance about trends that are emerging and new approaches to deal with existing problems. The model for an adaptive consultant will tend to evolve versus staying the same or shifting radically. The downside of the adaptive consultant is that he or she may be slow to adopt a new tool or technique that would add more value to clients than present approaches.

Each of these consultants brings something to the party. And, each has some potential limitations.

So what?

It might be important to understand the model your consultant uses before bringing the individual on board. The respective consultant's model as well as the fit with you and the organization will provide some insight into whether, in the end, you get a good return on your investment.


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