A typo and a consulting philosophy

Typo_ImageI was very excited to have a major company as my first client. My job was to work with the client to create “the best supervisory training program in the world”. We were both pumped with the idea and filled with energy and grandiose visions.

I sent my client a letter thanking them for their trust in me and my commitment to achieving our vision. I wanted to thank them for giving me my first break as an external consultant. A few days later, I received a letter from the client. They did have one concern…

In my haste to send off the letter, I made a typo. I inadvertently left out the “x” in the word “external”. The client’s letter back to me expressed their optimism and faith in me and the process we outlined. However, they did not want an “eternal” consultant. Oops!
I immediately called them to apologize for the typo and explain what I meant. All I could hear in my phone’s earpiece  was laughter. Fortunately, I had built a really good relationship with the client and they were having a good laugh at my expense. Once I realized that, I joined in the laughter as well.

That contract lasted for 18 months and we made significant changes in the organization’s culture and management style. We all believed we had achieved our goal of creating the best supervisory program in the world. They continued the program on their own for many years thereafter.

That typo was one of the best mistakes I ever made. It allowed me to explain my philosophy about consulting. First, I believe that consulting is really the process of helping a client find out what the real problems are, identifying potential solutions, testing solutions, and transferring knowledge and skills to the client so they can continue without me. It’s this latter belief, the transfer of knowledge and skills, that is at the heart of my consulting practice.

Second, I am not like other consultants who want to find a client that they can work with forever. I think that it is wrong to make a client dependent upon you. Good consultants are not “eternal” consultants.

Finally, I’m a regular guy. I don’t try to come off as a “highfalutin'” power-consultant. I’m a roll-up-your-sleeves and do the work kind of guy. I do my best to be relatable, trustworthy, and approachable while still being knowledgeable and confident. I’ve found that if I can demonstrate what I know in a way that builds cooperation and relationships, the interventions I undertake will be successful.


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