In addition to being an enthusiastic and passionate problem solver, a good consultant has a great thirst for knowledge. We’ve never known a good consultant that wasn’t also a voracious reader. We’ve often been asked to recommend books for consultants to read and have available in their personal libraries. This week Lew and I will discuss some of our favorite consulting and business related books.
Just to demonstrate how important it is to be versed in good books and other resources in your field of expertise, I heard of an incident recently where a client was speaking with a consultant, and at their initial consultation the client asked for recommendations of some books on the subject they were working on so she could get some initial insight. When the consultant answered with “sorry, I don’t know of any” the client was taken aback. This simple misstep has undermined the consultant’s credibility in the clients mind from day one.
So, be well read within your specialty, on current and evolving issues and on general business matters it helps build credibility and trust with your clients.
We’ll take turns discussing books that we would recommend to consultants or aspiring consultants.
(Lew) Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni. It’s Lencioni’s style to write a story, a parable to make a point and teach a lesson. Getting Naked is not about being unclothed. It’s about being vulnerable with the client. Saying ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t know and not being afraid to ask a dumb question.
He also advocates being their advisor as a sales approach. His advice is ‘Consult, don’t sell’. Meaning, when you begin talking to a client, let them talk. Ask them questions about their business and the challenges they’re facing and help them. If they like your help, they’ll keep coming back to you.
In most consulting firms, a sales call is a PowerPoint that brags about all of their experience and how many offices they have. Clients just aren’t interested in that. They want their problems solved.
The story in Getting Naked shows how a consultant in a traditional consulting firm sees the light. It advocates selecting good clients. He says a bad client is worse than having no client at all. It prevents you from finding other good clients. And it’s unlikely to get a good reference. It destroys your culture.
It points out 3 fears that consultants have when it comes to selling:
– – fear of losing business
– – fear of being embarrassed
– – fear of feeling inferior
This is an important book for consultants because it very clearly points out that selling services is not like selling a tangible product. It’s about developing relationships and developing a collaborative approach so that they come to you for help rather than you always hawking your services to them.
(Jeff) Lincoln on Leadership (currently reading – after seeing the movie ‘Lincoln’) Written by Donald T. Philips who says early in the book “Curiously, with everything that has been written about Abraham Lincoln, little is known about his extraordinary leadership ability”. Donald uses examples of Lincolns own work from speeches, letters and so forth to explain his principles of leadership in 4 sections:
Although so many of his anecdotes and doctrines are in the context of the 19th century and governing a nation at war, the underlying messages apply in almost every instance to a consultant client relationship:
Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops – Today we might call this networking…. Or maybe hand-on management.
Persuade Rather Than Coerce – Relationship selling
Keep searching until you find your ‘Grant’ – Building strong teams and mentoring leaders.
There are so many principles in this book that when you read the title initially it can be easy to dismiss as obvious or trite, but Don Philips does a great job bringing out Lincolns deeper thoughts on each subject.
(Lew) The three signs of a miserable job – Another parable by Patrick Lencioni of a man that retires as the CEO of a large company, gets bored and decides to manage the local pizza place in a vacation resort town. He goes through the culture shock of having people work for him that are not career minded and he begins working on figuring out – regardless of what kind of work you do – what is it that motivates people and makes them happy in their jobs.
This applies directly to consulting for a number of reasons. For one thing, you need to figure out what makes you happy. If you’re not fulfilled in your work, you’re not going to perform well. So you need to figure out if consulting is for you or if it’s just the situation you’re in.
It’s also important to know if you’re managing people on a team. I think this is a must read for any manager to help them understand how to motivate a team of people and make them as productive as possible.
And finally, if you’re at a client and part of your responsibility is the help them solve problems, the source of many clients’ problems often root from employee satisfaction, morale and the effects it has on productivity. So this is important information for consultants from many different perspectives.
(Jeff) Flawless Consulting by Peter Block. For many years this has been considered by some as the Consultants Bible. I’m not sure if it’s in this book or other writings, but one point has always stuck in my mind from Peter and that is “People don’t hire experts they hire those they want to work with”. – This fundamental is so important for a consultant to understand and apply. Of course you need to be an “expert”, or at least your firm does, but more importantly, as far as the client is concerned, you have to make them want to work with you.
Another point he makes is that all organizations are political systems and hierarchies. Instituting change and reform from a consultants perspective needs to acknowledge this from the context of where they sit outside the hierarchy and who they are working with inside the structure.
All in all this is a great book, I have to admit it’s many years since I’ve picked it up but this weeks episode has motivated me to do just that.
This book discusses business from two primary aspects. In part I, Cope covers the 5 key drivers of business and how to influence them. He discusses areas like cash, profit and assets. In part II, he discusses financial statements such as the annual report, the income statement and balance sheet.
Cope uses a fictional business called Austin’s Cycle Shop to relate these concepts in meaningful terms. He takes some of the things you probably learned in finance and accounting classes and simplifies them, putting them in meaningful contexts and shows how they’re all interrelated to the big picture of business. In each chapter, he relates that concept to how it affects decision making in the business.
This is important for consultants to understand so that they know the building block to how and why business managers at their clients make decisions. It’s imperative to understand this in order to frame issues and their resolutions in business terms.
(Jeff) Grown up digital by Don Tapscott. I guess the best way to summarize this book is that it addresses the issues and differences of the Baby Boomer generation versus the Millenials, mostly people born from about 1980 onward. These are the people that have “Grown up Digital” – Technology as the Boomers know it is simply a way of life for this generation, the internet is like running water, it’s just there.
There’s no direct correlation between this book and the profession of consulting, but the impact of Millenials in workplaces created by Baby Boomers and Gen X’s is creating a new dynamic that consultants need to understand and embrace. Don Tapscott does a great job at pointing out some things that we have all observed but rarely acknowledge.
Next week: About being ‘On the Bench’ as a Consultant.