Humble Consulting: How to Provide Real Help Faster
Consulting in Complex and Changing Times
Organizations face challenges today that are too messy and complicated for consultants to simply play doctor: run a few tests, offer a neat diagnosis of the “problem,” and recommend a solution. Edgar Schein argues that consultants have to jettison the old idea of professional distance and work with their clients in a more personal way, emphasizing authentic openness, curiosity, and humility. Schein draws deeply on his own decades of experience, offering over two dozens case studies that illuminate each stage of this humble consulting process. Just as he did with Process Consultation nearly fifty years ago, Schein has once again revolutionized the field, enabling consultants to be more genuinely helpful and vastly more effective.
He highlights the differences of Humble Consulting as follows:
- It requires a new kind of personal relationship with the client (which is a Level Two relationship building on trust and personalization))
- It requires a new kind of behaviour in the very first contact (such as a helping stance, personalizing the conversation and avoiding to deliver a “quick” solution)
- It requires a new attitude of humility, a commitment to helping, and curiosity (see also his book “Humble inquiry”)
- It requires new listening and responding skills (e.g. asking the right questions, listening actively and building on empathy)
- It is a new and different personal role for the consultant (not to help in the role of an expert while keeping professional distance, but to become a partner and helper for finding solutions)
- It encourages a wider range of consultant behavior based on the consultant being open, authentic and innovative in the relationship
- It will be most effective if the new conversations become dialogues (Schein means real dialogues, where the consultant enables the interactive exchange of people involved).
The book mainly builds on the following paradigms. Paradigms written by Reinhard Wagner, President of IPMA, Past President and Honorary Fellow of GPM (the German Project Management Association), and founder and CEO of Projectivists, a PM Consultancy:
The actors of the system (organization) know best about their challenges and potential solutions.
The consultant may support the organization through asking the right questions, facilitating communication and guiding the people involved through the process of change. From time to time the consultant may also provide specific expertise to the organization, but only if the organization specifically asks for it.
The chance to reach a sustainable change is much higher if all people of the organization are engaged in the change, irrespective of their hierarchical status. Changing an organization requires to engage all stakeholders and help them to self-organise the change towards the self-set ambitions.
Understanding culture, communication and collaboration and making professionally use of them is key to success in consulting an organization. You may understand and design strategy, structures and processes of an organization, but without the three “Cs” the people will not transform.
All this is highly applicable to increase the organizational competence in managing projects as described in the IPMA Organisational Competence Baseline (IPMA OCB®).