What is Consulting?
Consulting is when you give an advice to someone who is faced with a choice. It’s when you don’t have any direct control over people but the ability to influence their decisions. Consultant’s objective is to achieve some kind of change that result in people or organizations managing themselves differently. This objective comes in two varieties. The first is a change in the organization itself (structural, policy, operations, technology, …). The second is a change in people who can learn something new.
“A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group, or an organization but has no direct power to make changes or implement programs. A manager is someone who has direct responsibility over the action. The moment you take direct responsibility, you are acting as a manager.” 
Clients are the recipients of an advice, the one whom the consultant wants to influence. Client may be a work group, a department, or a whole organization.
- Technical Skills
We need to understand what the person is talking about. To start consulting, we need to acquire some technical expertise. If we don’t have any expertise, people wouldn’t ask for our advice. For example the field of expertise could be accounting, sales, engineering, organizational development, or any other.
- Interpersonal Skills
Just like technical skills, interpersonal skills are necessary for effective consultation. We need to have some ability to put ideas into words, to maintain a relationship, to listen, to disagree reasonably.
- Consulting Skills
Based on the book Flawless Consulting, each consulting project (whatever its size is) goes through five sequential phases. Skillful consultant is being competent in the execution of each of these steps. Following is the description of consulting phases.
- Entry and Contracting
This phase involves introductory meeting with client, exploring the problem and client’s and consultant’s expectations. This is also the time when consultant has to decide whether he is the right person to work on this issue.
The most important outcome of this phase is Statement of Work (SOW), a formal contract signed by both sides stating what are the project’s objectives and how are you going to achieve them.
- Discovery and Dialogue
In this phase the consultant need to identify the problem and the strengths the client has. He needs to validate what is in SOW, get data, and answer questions like: “Who is going to be involved in defining the problem or situation? What methods will be used? What kind of data should be collected? How long it will take? Should the inquiry be done by the consultant, or should it be done by the client?” 
- Analysis and the Decision to Act
The consultant tries to figure out what the data means. After the analysis, he sets project’s goals and plan the best action steps. This phase is what people call planning.
- Engagement and Implementation
This phase involves realization of steps planned in previous phase. Implementation may fall entirely on the organization, sometimes the consultant can be involved (especially in more complex project).
- Extension, Recycle, or Termination
In this point, decision can be made whether to extend the process to a larger segment of the organization, recycle the process and discuss a new contract, or terminate the relationship (even if the implementation was a huge success).
In acting as a consultant, you always operate at two levels. One level is the content – the analytical and rational part of the discussions. The second level is your relationship with the client – the feelings you both have.
There are four elements to the affective side of consultant-client interaction that are always operating:
- Responsibility – There should exists a 50/50 balance – to have a good contract client should take at least 50 percent of the responsibility for the project.
- Feelings – It’s important to know (feel) whether the client is defensive, doesn’t listen, doesn’t take responsibility, and so on.
- Trust – It’s important to build trust and make sure the client trust your confidentiality.
- Your own Needs – Consultant have a right to their own needs from the relationship (don’t fall into service mentality, in which you serve only client’s needs). For example it could be ability to talk to people, support from the manager, and so on.
- Valid Data – To be able solve problem, the consultant need valid data.
- Free and Open Choice – To be able make effective decisions.
- Internal Commitment – To be able to make an effective implementation.
“Ed Schein has identified three ways consultants work with line managers: in an expert role, a pair-of-hands role, or a collaborative role. The choice depends on individual differences in management style, the nature of the task, and the consultant’s own personal preference.” 
In Expert Role, the client plays inactive role. The consultant is responsible for results, accepts the responsibility, and implements action plan. The client is responsive and provide assistance needed to solve the problem. Technical control is in the consultant’s hands. The client doesn’t have to be involved in technical details.
Specific for Expert Role is low collaboration and limited two-way communication (the consultant initiates and the client responds).
Problems – Purely technical problems are rate and most of them include a human element. Commitment of people to take the recommended actions is low.
The client sees the consultant as an extra pair of hands that helps him to solve problems. The client have full control, defines goals, and develops action plan. The consultant takes a passive role, control rests with the client.
Specific for Pair-of-Hands Role is low collaboration and limited two-way communication (the client initiates and the consultant responds).
Problems – Considering discovery phase, the client doesn’t have to be able to understand what is happening and to develop an effective action plan. Then the consultant’s contribution becomes meaningless.
The client’s knowledge is put together with consultant’s specialized knowledge and problem solving is based on collaboration. Attention is put to both the technical issues and the human interactions. The consultant doesn’t solve problems for the client but they apply their special skills to help clients solve problems themselves. The goal is to solve problems so they stay solved. Client is involved in setting goals, developing action plans, sharing responsibility, …
Specific for Collaboration Role is high collaboration and two-way communication.
Problems – Working collaboratively takes some time. Some clients find Collaboration Role inappropriate.