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#221: Are You a Push or Pull Consultant?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 18, 2010
Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010
How is it that some independent consultants can make a living in just one discipline? Doesn't it seem that you need to be part of a larger firm that provides a range of specializations?

Henry Mintzberg refers to the difference in "push" (concepts) and "pull" (issues) in studying management. The push starts with some conceptual basis like cost control, strategy, or operations. This is the province of business schools and some consultants, and Mintzberg appropriately likens this orientation to the adage "to the child with a hammer, all the world's a nail." An academic's research and teaching centers on this concept and applies it to every situation. As a management consultant, if you are a "process" or "strategy" or "culture" person, then your tendency to see the world in these terms can be overwhelming. This approach, and the inability or unwillingness of some managers to see this for what it is (being sold the product rather than the solution), often leads to consultants being engaged for the wrong reason and ends up with a disappointed (or more) client. Any of a dozen books that pillory the consulting profession for this, including some of the largest consulting firms, provide ample evidence.

The pull concept is more like a skilled artisan, who sizes up a situation and brings to the solution the years of experience and the appropriate tools. This is the more ethical approach to consulitng, one that may not land you an engagement but delivers the right solution. The phrase "prescription without diagnosis is malpractice" comes to mind. In practice, this means a management consultant's education and perspective has to be greater than just an industry orientation of disciplinary specialization. Even if you are not part of a large firm (or more than one person), you always are obligated ethically to assess the client's needs from a number of perspectives.

Tip: It is hard for any individual to have a comprehensive view, but it is possible to operate your practice ethically without being part of a large firm. Read well outside your comfort zone. Spend time with colleagues with different skills on case studies, where you must defend your point of view and learn new ones. Attend professional development sessions in an area that may not be obvious as your "type" of session. Finally, whenever possible, team with another consultant or firm with different perspectives and skills.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  consulting process  engagement management  ethics  learning  your consulting practice 

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