This post is the first in an occasional series in which I will share my book recommendations on a variety of topics. Stephen King has said, “when you stack up the years we are allowed against all there is to read, time is very short indeed.” In these Bibliophile’s Bookshelf posts, I’ll be offering a short list of books for people with limited time – books that I think get to the heart of the matter and offer great advice. Enjoy!
The role of a consultant varies widely, and the competencies necessary to be effective also constitute a long list. Learning to be an effective consultant requires gaining expertise, strategizing a process that works, becoming skilled at data gathering and analysis, developing a wide range of communication and influence skills, and more. Of course, having one’s own consulting practice requires yet another set of skills in business development and marketing – but that’s a subject for another post. For now, here are my picks for consulting books to have on your bookshelf, whether physical or virtual.
Consulting in Uncertainty: The power of inquiry
Ann K. Brooks and Kathy Edwards
Routledge, 2014. On Amazon here.
This book takes a unique – and thoroughly modern – look at consulting as an action learning project instead of as an advice-giving enterprise. Brooks and Edwards suggest that the best outcomes will come from a collaboration between consultants and clients with each bringing their areas of expertise to the table and engaging together to define questions and seek answers. They also advocate experimentation along the way – testing theories and validating approaches before going all-in on a particular response to an organizational opportunity or issue. Consulting in Uncertainty is a small book, but it covers all the bases: a consulting model (the inquiry model), methods, needed skills, and consulting challenges.
“Consulting as inquiry assumes that (a) consulting must be outcome oriented rather than problem oriented; (b) consulting must be focused on the co-creation of new knowledge rather than expert knowledge; (c) consulting and client relationships are personal rather than just professional; and (d) dynamic rather than static knowledge is needed in a diverse and uncertain world.”
~ Ann K. Brooks and Kathy Edwards, Consulting in Uncertainty
The Trusted Advisor
David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford
Touchstone, 2000. On Amazon here.
The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A comprehensive toolkit for leading with trust
Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe
John Wiley & Sons, 2012. On Amazon here.
The Trusted Advisor provides practical advice on building trusting relationships with clients – the kinds of relationships in which you can truly be a valued collaborator, sought-after advisor, and business partner. Maister, Green and Galford do a great job laying out different levels of relationships (service-based, needs-based, relationship-based, and trust-based) and readers can imagine when each level might be appropriate. If you want to reach the trusted advisor level, the book offers a trust equation and a trust development process that provide guidance on how to engage with clients to build deeper relationships. There is also plenty of advice on practical skills. The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook supplements these ideas with helpful checklists and spotlights on specific aspects of consulting engagements (e.g. pitching ideas, managing risk, communicating at the C-suite level).
“While outstanding technical competence (or content) is a nonnegotiable, essential ingredient for success, it is not sufficient. Trust is a lot richer than logic alone, and it is a significant component of success.”
~ Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe, The Trusted Advisor
Consulting on the Inside: A practical guide for internal consultants
Beverly Scott and B. Kim Barnes
ASTD, 2011 (2nd Edition). On Amazon here.
Many people who work in learning and development roles are employees of the organizations they support – that is, they consult from the inside. Scott and Barnes’ book speaks to the dynamics of that particular role, and readers will recognize the joys and the challenges inherent therein. This book offers a take on the consulting process that is more traditional, although Scott and Barnes take pains to point out that it is an iterative and complex one. There is solid advice on all of the typical process activities – contracting, gathering data and giving clients feedback, strategizing change, implementing, and evaluating. You’ll also find several chapters dedicated to exploring the skills needed to be effective. In addition, Consulting on the Inside is very readable, with many sidebars, bulleted lists, and summaries.
“Becoming a master consultant is the result of a long journey. No matter how well educated or intelligent you may be, mastery is not given, but rather earned through courageous action, thoughtful reflection, and the discipline of learning from both success and failure.”
~ Beverly Scott and Kim Barnes, Consulting on the Inside
Additional books on the topic of consulting abound, and I welcome suggestions as to your favorites if you want to comment below. Nearby on the same bookshelf are books on consulting as a business, performance consulting, and assessing needs. But those are posts for another day.