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#65: Are You Answering the Right Question?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, June 05, 2009
Updated: Saturday, June 06, 2009
After a dozen years as a consultant, I now realize that as often as not, answering the question the client poses at the start of an engagement is not the right question. Is this common with other consultants?

Physicians, psychologists, consultants and probably most helping professions expect that the presenting issue by the client is likely to not be the core question. It is, however, the issue that the client can see, feel and understand enough to want help solving it. It is our responsibility as consultants to conduct due diligence and make sure we are answering the right question before we start our investigation.

Every consultant should have a formal procedure to assure that the facts and assumptions around an engagement are fully investigated. Of course, you should respect the client's point of view and perspective and work through that presenting question until you are sure you are confident you are addressing the right questions, understand the facts on the ground, have access to the right people and information and are competent to solve the "right" problem.

Tip: There is a serious ethical dilemma to this process of getting to the right question. It may be that you were retained on the assumption that you are solving one problem. If, as you clear away the uncertainty and confusion around the real issue, the skills and behaviors required to effectively solve it maybe beyond your capability. At any time, if you feel you are not qualified to solve the problem as it currently stands, you are obligated to offer to withdraw from the engagement.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  customer understanding  engagement management  ethics 

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Maryanne M. Colter says...
Posted Sunday, June 07, 2009
The expectation that the presenting issue is probably not the core issue is true for the 'helping profession' of executive coaching as well. The ethical standards of the ICF (the IMC equivalent for coaches) are in agreement with the IMC that if the core issue is not within the skills and competancy of the coach, the coach should withdraw. Seems everyone is on board with the ethics of not overstating your capacity to help.
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