(Lew) The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford. This is a very well thought out and researched book that contends that there is a five-step development that a consultant takes to become a client’s trusted advisor. This includes Engaging the client to focus on their issues, Listening to them including their non-verbal communication, Framing their statements to make sure you understand, Envisioning to work with them to form a solution and Connecting and Committing together to what it will take to make it happen.
Like Lincioni’s Getting Naked, this is really a book about selling consulting and professional services without talking about selling. The bottom line is if you work with a potential client, develop a relationship and slowly build your way up to being their trusted advisor, you won’t have to do traditional sales. The client will come to you rather than you going to the client.
(Jeff) You can Negotiate Anything (Herb Cohen). This book dates back to 1982 but the fundamental rules of negotiation and the manner in which you approach a negotiation are universal; Everything is negotiable, just because it’s written down, previously agreed or otherwise apparently set in stone, it’s often possible to negotiate a change. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what they want. Keeping in mind what the other party wants or needs in the negotiation is more important than focusing on your own needs. You need to care, but don’t care too much.
Herb Cohen says that life is a game. If you are too emotionally invested in an outcome, you will likely overpay for it. Consultants constantly find themselves in all forms of negotiation, so understanding some of these fundamentals, and psychology of negotiation is important. The book shares anecdotes and stories that Herb uses to demonstrate his points. It’s an easy read and a good one to pick up every now and then to remind yourself of the fundamentals.
(Lew) The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner by Peggy Klaus
This book discusses things like self-control, when to talk and when not to, dealing with criticism, office politics and oversensitivity. Klaus uses real world examples from her experience and others to explain the dos and don’ts of dealing with people and being accountable.
My favorite chapter was on office politics, where she offered advice about avoiding gossip, affairs in the office and learning the unwritten rules of the office.
This is a good book for consulting because you need to have these kinds of soft skills to deal with the many clients you’ll deal with. Each client environment is just a little bit different from the other. Every company has its own unique personality and a consultant needs to be able to navigate through it to be successful.
(Jeff) How to Measure Anything (Douglas W. Hubbard) I came across this book a year or so back when I needed to quantify some business criteria that was apparently un-quantifiable. The book is actually sub-titled – Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business.
I’ve always held that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Now I’m not a statistical analyst but as a Knowledge Management practitioner I’m often faced with having to provide numbers to people who are. My approach has always been to start measuring something, this gives the analyst something to work with and you can work from there. This book did a couple of things for me; it justified some of the methods I’d been applying for a number of years, which was encouraging, and it also provided some creative methods for approaching process management and metrics.
(Lew) Good to Great by Jim Collins. Jim Collins doesn’t just walk around writing crappy books. He’s written some excellent books including “Great by Choice” and “Built to Last”. But “Good to Great is by far my favorite. He and his team researched over 1,400 companies that had shown positive growth and performance improvement over time to go from being a good company to a great one.They identified 11 companies that showed consistent growth and performance and then identified the traits that those 11 companies had that moved them from good to great.
I recommend this for two reasons. First of all, I found the common traits interesting for their ‘off the beaten path’ kind of approach. And it’s not that they’re such crazy ideas. They’re often unexpected because they’re so common. For instance, ‘Get the right people on the bus’. It simply means to hire the right people. That’s not exactly counter-intuitive, but it’s surprising how many companies I’ve seen that don’t make that a priority.
The other reason I recommend it is that this is critical information for consultants. If you’re advising companies on how to get better, this is required reading.
(Jeff) There’s a few books that I’ve read on the subject of Lean Management and Agile development. In the context of consulting it could be viewed as the ability to progress a project more rapidly and efficiently than the traditional serial method of analyze, specify, plan, implement, accept and handover. There’s three books I’d like to recommend:
- The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)
- Rework (Jason Fried)
- Poke the Box (Seth Godin)
The Lean Startup and Rework focus to some extent on business startup, but the methods of Lean and Agile apply equally to projects. I’ve always held that for complex systems and projects, it’s often not practical to fully specify and agree on requirements before starting work. Rather, there’s merit in establishing a solid understanding of needs without attempting to finalize all the details then start.
Build something, deliver, gather feedback, adjust and reiterate. This is the manner in which many online applications are developed. Initial product delivery, which I think it’s Eric terms a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), provide a platform for users to comment and criticize. Later iterations become increasingly robust, more users utilize the product and provide increasing detail of feedback.
Now I accept that many projects aren’t suited to this methodology, for example mission critical systems require much tighter controls than might be alluded to in these books, but with that in mind, it’s worth considering these techniques for projects where it’s appropriate.
Although I’m reminded of the mission critical Apollo 13 in-flight engineering that was effectively approached in this agile method. – That worked!
I bundled Poke the Box in here mainly because of Seth’s approach to innovation and action. Seth Godin isn’t for everyone and he will push a few buttons, but his message is sound. Do something, even if it might fail you will learn something. Be innovative and stretch. Consultants might need to apply this approach conservatively but it’s a good read to get you out of a project rut.
(Lew) The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. This is a fiction novel about a plant manager who is given an ultimatum to turn his factory’s performance around. He has a chance meeting with an old acquaintance who teaches him about the theory of constraints, a way of thinking towards constant improvement by identifying bottlenecks and identifying ways to resolve them.
This is a great book for consultants because it provides a framework for solving problems. The book itself is about a manufacturing plant but that’s just a metaphor for any situation that has issues to resolve. It also talks about identifying what the true goal is for solving a problem and not getting caught up in peripheral issue that tend to side-track problem solving and decision making.
(Jeff) Extraordinary Leadership (Robin Sharma) This is actually a free audiobook download, and it’s easy to dismiss ‘free’ as ‘cheap’ but Robin Sharma does a great job in delivering some leadership guidance in this short, easy to listen to audiobook. Like many books, there is not necessarily anything new in here, but it’s perfect for reminding you of some of the basics and giving you that boost of leadership motivation. Look past the free and be educated and motivated.
(Lew) The mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks
The Mythical Man-Month is a book about project management. When a project falls behind we tend to want to add manpower to it. Brooks, who was a project manager for IBM many years ago, proves that adding people simply delays the project further. Some managers assume that people are interchangeable parts, but as the saying goes, you can’t get nine women to have a baby in a month.
This is important for consulting because almost all consulting work is project-based. Someone in consulting needs to understand this counter-intuitive concept, whether they are managing the project or the client is. When a project gets in trouble the consultant needs to make whoever is in charge aware that simply throwing bodies at it is not the solution.
- Wikinomics / Macrowikinomics (Don Tapscott)
- The Wisdom of Crowds (James Surowiecki)
- SharePoint Roadmap for Collaboration (Michael Sampson)
OK I’ve bunched several books in here, under the heading of Collaboration. Firstly, Don Tapscott’s Wikinomics, and a later iteration on the theme called Macrowikinomics. The second book didn’t resonate as much with me but Wikinomics is a must read for people who want to get a better understanding of ‘How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything’ – Which is the sub-title of the book.
It addresses the benefits of open sharing of information, peer driven communication and acting globally. For anyone who has experienced open-source software or the phenomena of something like Wikipedia, Wikinomics will resonate with you.
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowieki is on a similar theme, his concept is essentially that if two heads are better than one, well hundreds or thousands of heads are approaching perfection. He’s not espousing decisions by committee, but in situations where people arrive at decisions on their own, if grouped together the collective result will be the best achievable. It’s thought provoking and definitely worth a read.
Lastly, I’ve also bundled another book in here by Michael Sampson called SharePoint Roadmap for Collaboration. Now a disclaimer here, I narrated the audiobook version. But just like with your book Lew, the reason I did this was because it resonated with me. Michael is a collaboration consultant, he helps companies apply collaboration methods in their companies. SharePoint Roadmap looks at the ‘business stuff’ in the collaboration equation.
It’s so easy nowadays for IT departments to deploy SharePoint or other forms of collaboration software, and expect that the business will magically take care of the rest – Build it and they will come. But experience shows that’s often not the case. In fact in an upcoming episode we are going to look at this subject and address the subject of how Information is different than technology and as such needs to be managed much differently. Michael has developed a range of techniques to address what I call the human aspects of consulting.
(Lew) Work 101: Learning the ropes of the work place without hanging yourself by Elizabeth Freedman Although this book sound a lot like one we’ve talked about before in this podcast, it deals with many things people need to understand in the work place.
It covers the areas of etiquette, relationships and career management. My favorite piece of advice from this book is “Don’t assume you said (or wrote) what you meant. This recommendation goes on to explain the importance of communication aspects like email in the work place, casual conversations, public speaking and perhaps the most important, listening. This is important for consultants because these are basic skills they need to be successful, not only within their own company, but at each client the visit as well.
(Jeff) Getting Things Done (David Allen)
GTD as it’s become known is sub-titled ‘The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’. This book has taken on cult-status in some respects, but I think we all struggle with day to day productivity to some degree, some of the time.
Our personal management systems change and the world changes around us but David Allen distills our personal management down to the fact that ‘our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax’ – Mind like water is one mantra he uses – let it flow. Getting information out of your head and into a trusted system of choice is key to removing the ‘to-do’ stress and getting things done. If you get into this methodology you will find yourself picking this book up many times for a refresher.
(Lew) The Art and Science of Dealing with Difficult People by David Brown. This is an easy to read guide that deals with fifty different aspects of interpersonal relations including self-analysis. When you have a problem dealing with someone, it may be more of you and less of them. But it gives good advice on providing helpful feedback that gets results as well as a section on conflict resolution.
The thing I like most about this is that he doesn’t accept that the difficult person is the other guy. It could very well be an intolerance or lack of confidence on your part. This is critical for consultants because of the many diverse and high-powered people a consultant deals with. You may deal with some tough clients and even some tough, over-competitive peers at your firm. You need to know how to deal with them and how to determine when the problem is in the mirror.
(Jeff) Users Not Customers (Aaron Shapiro)
Aaron takes a stance that customers of any business today can be viewed as users, such as on a website. So rather than treating ‘customers’ in the traditional sense and trying to ‘sell’ them a product or service, he advocates that successful companies treat them like users with a view to improving the user experience, building relationships, and combining self-service with full-service options to drive sales.
I think the consulting profession can benefit from applying this approach.
We hope you found this list helpful. If you have suggestions for other books on consulting please feel free to Contact Us or leave a comment below.