Working as a consultant brings with it refreshing freedom. Each gig has a unique set of parameters defining the goals to be accomplished and the role to be delivered. As a former theater student, I enjoy approaching each opportunity as a district production and considering the potential roles of a consultant. It has been my experience that having the ability to play a wide range of roles for clients increases my value and ability to deliver what is actually needed.
Not all consultants embrace taking on a variety of roles. Instead, they opt to limit themselves to one particular persona, and market themselves as a “one trick pony.” The advantage here is that the specifically defined and hard-wired role is clearly understood by the client. The two drawbacks: often consultancies require flexibility that cannot be anticipated. Also, rigidity in one’s role can begin to feel like a Vegas residency of a forgotten pop star.
Like an actor, learning a new role takes a huge commitment to creativity. Through experience, I have learned that investing not only in delivering the desired outcomes but also in playing the needed role, results in the most effective consulting practice.
The Roles of a Consultant
As a coach, the consultant primarily fulfills two needed voids: teaching skills and providing a game plan. The coach stays on the sidelines but pays close attention to all that is unfolding and can make on-the-fly suggestions to alter strategy and execution of tasks.
As a mentor, the consultant is a sounding board to explore difficult questions. As a mentor, the consultant is one step removed from the daily activity of the organization, but available for an executive or team to explore a wide variety of concerns.
While incorporating the role of coach and mentor, the expert is primarily called upon when the situation demands unwavering confidence. Think about how “expert witnesses” can be brought into the courtroom to make a case in a trial. This role is beneficial when there is a major difference of opinion on a board, or between the board and the executive director.
In this role, the consultant steps onto the playing field and executes in a manner that exceeds the capacity present in the staff.
Often a role played in conjunction with another role, the consultant is often needed to provide optimism in the face of complex challenges.
The Work Horse
In this role, the consultant is required to roll up their sleeves and pull, and pull hard, often for a short time span in order to meet a difficult or overwhelming deadline.
As the strategist, the sole focus is to see the field and map out various paths to accomplish the desired goal More in-depth than the game time planning of the coach, the strategist often works with log planning horizons.
The job of the translator is to make things comprehendible. Many things can seem like a “foreign language” to an organization, and in this role, the consultant is there to make things simple to understand.
The consultant here is called into to make the hard decisions and execute them, often regarding downsizing or issues of termination of a program or role.
Particularly useful when there is resistance at the top, the fool implements the secret recipe of humor and wisdom to move things that are stuck. This role is perhaps the most useful in the most challenging situations.
These ten roles are not by any means all the possibilities, and often a combination is called for, depending on the needs of the client. Perhaps this exploration will shed some understanding on why it is not only important to define the results you require from a consultancy. Clarity on which role will best align and deliver on your priorities, and making sure your consultant has the capacity to fulfill that persona, increases the likelihood that your investment will be worthwhile.