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Communication for Consultants


[MUSIC PLAYING] Well, I’ve had this book
in me for a long time. Before I started teaching
full time two years ago in the Caroll’s school,
I had a long career as a university administrator,
a software executive, an independent consultant. And through that
whole time, I was also teaching business communication. So I’ve been quite a
student and an examiner for years of what it takes
to communicate in business, how business and
individuals rise and fall based on their communications. But I’ve always been
particularly interested in the unique relationship
between a consultant and a client. It’s quite a changeable
relationship. And communication
is particularly important in that environment. So it’s something that
I wanted to study. In addition, over the
years, my own students have come back to me once
they’re in business and said, I am so glad that I had some
preparation for communication because I really didn’t
know what to do on the job and how to interact
with anyone– that first email,
that first report. So I think we onboard students
very well into companies. And we groom employees very well
in terms of the specific skills we want them to have. But these baseline
skills and communications being one of them, we don’t
often pay much attention to. We’re hearing it more
and more from industry. So many of my own
clients over the years and other people that I’ve been
in contact with in business have really stated
very clearly that it’s a concern they have about how
students migrate from their MBA programs, or their undergraduate
programs into business, and that they stumble a bit
in the communications area, either in writing or
with oral presentations. So they really want this. And interestingly, in 2015,
Burning Glass Technologies did a study looking
at soft skills that employees wanted and were
having difficulty finding. They looked at millions
of job postings and found that of 15 different
industries, 13 of those wanted communications
as the number one skill. The 14th wanted writing
as the number one skill. And the 15th, more interested in
customer service, wanted that. So it’s pretty
obvious that there’s a burning need
for this, and it’s something we need to address. And I thought that I had a
unique perspective on it, and I would be able to
really take a look and dive very deeply into the topic. So I have in this book. So my target audience is
obviously consultants, but I define that very broadly. I’m really talking about
anyone or any entity that’s outside of an organization, and
it’s helping that organization by going inside. And that’s the dynamic
that I’m really looking at, which is we come in from
the outside to help someone. And it could be because
that client doesn’t have the expertise,
doesn’t have the time, doesn’t have the experience
with whatever it is our company or we know. And, so, we move in to actually
help and then we move out. So that’s really the
group I’m looking at is anyone who is
involved in that dynamic. Certainly, students who
are looking– particularly, grad students– who are
interested in consulting would find this very useful. I would say employees who are
internal consultants from one department to another would
find this particularly useful because they, again,
are in that relationship. But also seasoned consultants
who, perhaps, want to have a bit of a primer again
on general communications– what they should be looking
at to spruce theirs up a bit. And we have a lot
of people now who have been experts in their
fields for so many years and become consultants. But really haven’t been in that
relationship, in that dynamic, with the client. I think the book would
be very useful for them. My publisher–
Business Expert Press– fortunately, has
these collections. And the idea around
the collection– this one’s in the corporate
communication collection– but the idea is for these
to be very niche pieces that are quite focused at
a particular topic and that a reader could
in one to two sittings really understand very deeply a
particular topic with some very good examples. And, so, that’s
what the book is. The key takeaways of
communication for consultants really revolves around
two major areas. One is the preparation that we
must be involved in– we call it audience analysis– to take a look at
what the client needs from the communication rather
than necessarily what we are thinking we must do. So it’s really looking at
the value to the client. And there’s actually
a methodology that we go through that I
take the reader through on how to prepare that analysis. The other key takeaway is around
the phase of an consulting engagement and
what the dynamic is in each of these three phases,
and how to address those. So going back to audience,
the three major areas around audience
that we all should look at when we’re writing and
in particular consultants when they’re dealing
with clients, it’s really looking at a
situation, what product we’re going to deliver, and
how we deliver it. So I’ll give you an example
and I talk about this example in the text. It actually came from
an interview that I did. So let’s say a project isn’t
going so well, an engagement. And you are a consultant, and
you receive from your client a pretty scathing email
about the project. It’s not going well. I don’t have any
confidence in the team. And let’s say you received
that one evening on an email. Your natural inclination would
be to respond to the email. But that’s the point at
which you must pause, and this is what we talk about. And the pause is
really because we want to defend
ourselves immediately, maybe even in a very gentle way. But we want to say no,
this team is very good. And they’ve done this,
and they’ll do fine. But really, I think what
we need to do is step away, evaluate that situation,
and really think about is the answer in another email? Or is there something
else going on here? So we might come to the
point that the product isn’t an email, but it might be
a face-to-face meeting. And in the particular
example that I mentioned, we recount how in
this situation, the response really was
a face-to-face meeting was better because the
person hadn’t written truly in the email what
they were thinking. So it’s often that when we
receive a communication, especially with someone
from the outside, a client or a consultant, we might not
really be sure what’s going on. We may not have communicated
with that person much in the past. This is a new
relationship, perhaps. And we need to pause a bit
and evaluate the situation. And then of course, the last
piece of that is the delivery. And the delivery
might be a meeting between the team manager, the
executive, and the client. So it’s always looking
at those three. And that’s particularly
important in business communication, generally,
and even more important when you are the outsider– the consultant– who’s making
their way to help internally. So that’s the phase
around audience analysis. Within an engagement, I
divide the book the way a typical engagement is divided,
which is pre-engagement, engagement, and post. Pre-engagement, we come in
not knowing one another. We are probably
much more formal. We’re very careful
about everything that we write and present. It may turn into
part of our contract. And sometimes, we’re
welcomed with open arms, and everyone wants us there. But oftentimes,
there’s some resistance because the reason a consultant
goes into an engagement is usually to make change. We know change is
difficult. So sometimes, we have some obstruction
in the communication and simply because there
is in receiving us. So I talk a lot in the book
about what that environment is like, what a consultant needs
to be concerned about and aware of in terms of dealing
with the client, and also the way the
consultant is feeling. The consultant is very excited,
can’t wait to change the world, and it might be the time to
pull back ever so slightly. So that’s really an idea
of the pre-engagement. Within the engagement,
we’re typically all working very hard to an end. And what usually happens there
is we’re much more peers. We are working with one
another day in and day out. Some of these projects
go on for years. But that’s the time to be
very wary about communication because we may say
too much, we may not be as polished and
professional as we should be, and we often run into problems
in the engagement period. So we talk a lot
about that phase. I talk a lot about–
and again, assessing the environment and what
the situation, and how it affects communication. In the post engagement,
we’re wrapping up the project with a
bow, we want to leave, we want to do that of
course very professionally. And here, we’re really
looking at how do we write materials
that bring a finale, I would say, to the engagement. And perhaps, open
up opportunities to come back around again. So those are the key
takeaways from the book. I hope readers use the
book to prepare themselves and for an engagement. I hope that
experienced consultants can use the examples in the
book as well as the advice. But certainly, the examples. The book is really
lots of dialogue– a discussion about
the engagements as I mentioned earlier, and the
environment in that period. But it’s backed up
with specific examples. So for someone who
needs an example of how to deliver bad news, how
to write progress reports, all of that material is there
as well as a very detailed explanation on performing
audience analysis in each of these situations. So I’m hoping it’s a
very practical book for new consultants and
seasoned consultants, who are facing an engagement. I think it would
be particularly– I wish I had had it before
I walked into an engagement. If I had spent a couple of
nights reading something like this, I think I would have
been very prepared for what was going to come at
me and how I needed to interact with my clients. So I’m very hopeful that
that will be the situation. And I think for MBA students
and for undergraduate business students, or really
for anyone who’s thinking of being involved
in a consulting environment, I think it will be very helpful
as an overview of what they’re about to encounter. As I was researching
and writing this, I became acutely aware of I
suppose what I already knew, which is this is such an
important topic for companies, for business people, and it’s
one that we underestimate, often. I think we are very
careful about, again, making sure that
whomever we hire knows very deeply
their particular skill. But this was just
a good reminder that these benchmark skills
like communications and writing are extremely important
in success for business. So I was really reminded
of that throughout. And it made me very
appreciative for the work that has been my life’s work. So on a personal level,
it was wonderful to be able to pull together
the experiences from my own corporate work, my
nonprofit work, and my teaching for all these years. So I see it as a
gift from something that’s been inside of me to
help others succeed in business, and I hope it will. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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