Some people want the consulting-client relationship to be all business and others are not so strict. When is it appropriate to get to know a client personally instead of just professionally?
Professionalism does not dictate that you necessarily be "all business, all the time." Also, consider that "personal" and "business" do not constitute the end points of a relationship continuum. These are two of many aspects of a relationship that range from deep to shallow. The extent to which you engage your client personally depends on interpersonal chemistry and any concerns about actual or perceived conflicts of interest. The extent to which you engage your client on business aspects depends on the nature of the engagement.
One thing that every consultant should understand is that everyone likes to be acknowledged and respected. It is painful to watch some consultants ignore junior staff during project meetings, or to talk about people in the third person in their presence. Some may do this because they don't want to get too personal with client staff, presuming that their relationship with the client is only with the executive. Others may behave this way because they really don't have respect for those outside the line of sight between consulting engagement manager and client sponsor. I hear this mostly from clients talking about larger consulting firms, where it is more likely that roles of marketing, selling, service and quality assurance are separated. But it is not firm size, per se, that creates this problem for clients, but the lack of seeing the whole client and staff through the whole relationship.Tip:
Regardless of consulting firm size or separation of roles, it is incumbent on the consultant to be sure that they really "see" the client across both business and personal areas. At a minimum, if you don't really get to know the personal issues of the staff and all stakeholders across whose paths your engagement takes you, are you really fulfilling your ethical and professional obligation to give full understanding, independence and objectivity to your diagnosis, findings and recommendations?© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA