Frequently clients will come to us and ask us to address a "problem" that is unspecific, such as poor performance, or they have a desire to improve overall performance, effectiveness in a certain division or bottom-line. Clearly defining the specific problem they need to solve cmes before identifying the "drivers” and crafting solutions. How do you approach this for clients who don't know what they don't know but expect you to just solve it?
Clients may expect a lot from consultants but being a mind reader is not part of the job description, nor is making priority decisions addressing the scope or sequence of performance improvement strategies. These are management decisions and your role is to help get them to the point where they can set the priorities. Then you can get on with your "second" job of helping diagnose the causes and recommend solution options. Arguably the biggest value a consultant brings at the outset of an engagement is the clear definition of the problem(s) to be addressed. The client may want an immediate solution but their inability to articulate the problem provides a clue as to why it has not been solved.
So as to not leave you hanging, here are a few approaches to make sure you and your client are really on the same page at the engagement start:
- Ask the folks who work there, and I mean before the obligatory staff diagnostic interviews. Although they may not identify the actual "root cause” or won't know how to accurately assess the impact, this is the best place to start your search. Make sure you understand the nomenclature and culture of the problem before you start in on the solution.
- Look hard at the financials, current and historical. Compare the information to baseline data from the industry. Ask "why?” several times to see how far the client staff really understands the organizational system. This will tell you who, if anyone, will be able to confirm your suspicions about symptoms or root causes.
- If possible, look at the client’s competition and see if you can (with help from others) determine what they do differently. Does your client think their problems are unique or more or less like everyone else's?
These steps may seem obvious to most consultants as part of the solution diagnostic, but you may need to conduct a separate, formal diagnostic process (closely with the client sponsor) to agree on what problems you are really being hired to address. © 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA