How do you build credibility as an Internal Consultant?

The element of aligning with your business as a consultant/business partner, is an art, which works on the fundamental grounds of the Credibility that you build within the business. Over the years as I have worked with businesses I have experienced multiple situations which made me take mental notes on what works and what doesn’t. As we strive harder to earn and retain our seat at the client table, we do realize that it’s a combination of working hard and smart. It’s a combination of how deeply & systemically we understand our business, how efficient is our listening engine, how strong and authentic are our relationships and how effective are we as subject matter experts and solutions providers.

The following checklist captures all my Points of View on how to become credible and valued. I don’t claim this to be the absolute final list, but an exhaustive one nevertheless. As you read each suggestion, put a checkmark in the boxes that indicate practices you already do well. When you finish reviewing the whole list, place an asterisk (*) next to those items in which you want to improve. Your commitment will be even stronger if you include a future date for checking your progress in the development areas you picked.

Stay in Touch with What’s Happening in Your Business at Large

  • Keep a strong network of contacts inside the organization.
  • Read and collect the Business’s literature and articles in the internal/external ecosystem/media.
  • Ask your boss and colleagues to keep you posted on changes in the organization, even in departments that you don’t interact with regularly.
  • Make sure you know what others in the related industry are doing.
  • Stay current with your own development and skills.

Know Your Client and Their Customer

  • Learn about your client’s business and about their customers.
  • Ask clients if you can visit them on-site (on-field) to see first-hand what they do.
  • Go on (external) customer visits with your line client. (wherever applicable)
  • Learn your client’s language. Make it your business to understand the jargon so you don’t feel like an outsider.
  • Research you customer’s position in the marketplace. Know where they stand relative to the competition, and what they need to do to gain more share of market.
  • Build strong relationships; establish a good rapport based on trust, honesty, and excellent service.

Find out What Hurts the Most or Needs Attention

  • Listen to the areas of greatest pain. Evaluate whether they are bleeding slowly or hemorrhaging. If they’re hemorrhaging, help them out of the crisis but don’t lose sight of the underlying causes to focus on later.
  • Study your customer’s strengths and weaknesses. Listen to what they tell you is happening, but make your own independent observations as well.
  • Give honest and constructive feedback as to what you observe.
  • Practice “CBWA” (“Consulting By Wandering Around”), meet the employees, observe, talk. Listen! Listen! Listen!
  • Spend time on quantitative and anecdotal data gathering. Resist the temptation to jump to solutions prematurely. By the same token, don’t overanalyze and fall into the “analysis paralysis” trap.
  • Learn to read verbal and nonverbal cues, especially when there is resistance to change.
  • Set objectives to capitalize on the strengths and correct the weaknesses.

Develop Authentic Client/Consultant Relationships

  • Respect the sacredness of confidentiality agreements.
  • Introspect periodically to make sure your own “baggage” isn’t interfering with the relationship or the outcome.
  • Show flexibility in being able to move from a supporting stance to a confronting one if needed or anywhere in between.
  • Stay real. If you or your client aren’t straight with each other, and you don’t confront your issues, your impact as a consultant diminishes.
  • Stay alert to social and political “hot buttons.”
  • Don’t gossip or get involved in the “rumor mill”; Certainly, don’t start rumors. 🙂
  • Manage your “moments of truth.”
  • Be known around the organization as a person with integrity and ethics.
  • Learn to say “no” in a way that people end up thanking you for saying it.

Create Solutions That Are Pragmatic yet Innovative

  • Don’t try to be “all things to all people”; segment your impact area (market), find your niche, and be the best at what you’ve chosen.
  • “Think globally but act locally”; respond to your customer’s immediate needs for “putting out fires” but work simultaneously with an eye on the big picture.
  • It’s your responsibility to keep in communication with your client. For them, you may be “out of sight, out of mind.” While their work may be your top priority, you may be lower down on their priority list.
  • Give as much consideration to how you’re going to communicate and get acceptance for an intervention as you do for the intervention itself.
  • Don’t be afraid of pizzazz. Even the most senior managers become bored by humdrum recommendations. Take risks, make your customers say “wow” even if they choose the path of least resistance. Don’t back off the next time because they rejected your pioneer spirit the time before; keep thinking out of that box.

Market and Sell Your Solutions Internally

  • Break into the market where you know you can have a successful pilot. Then get your satisfied customers to give testimonials of your work to others.
  • Involve senior management in your implementation strategy. If they really like it enough, they’ll end up marketing it as their idea, which, in most cases, is good for you.
  • Avoid getting desperate. If your customer repeatedly rejects what you have to offer, find out why. Either you need to become more tuned in to their business needs, create a new marketing strategy, or cut your losses and get out. If the timing is right at a later date, pull it out, repackage, and try again.
  • Don’t take criticism personally; getting defensive when criticized may be one of the worst things you can do as a consultant. People will stop telling you the truth and you’ll never learn from your mistakes.
  • If you are the type of person that needs positive stroking all the time, recognize that this may not be the job for you.

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