Practice and Hone Your Consulting Skills
On the field of battle we once heard Ready, Aim, Fire! Similarly, in today’s business environment, where working effectively is the name of the game, people must Engage, Align and Execute! If you want to be good at what you do, whether it is systems engineering, finance, HR, management consulting or some other discipline, here is your prescriptive advice:
- Learn your technical “hard” skills and stay abreast of developments in your industry.
- Practice and hone your consulting and interpersonal business skills.
And by the way, your consulting and business soft skills boil down to Engage, Align, and Execute. Therefore, whatever your technical area or discipline, you need to hone your skills and abilities to Engage, Align, and Execute. These are the interpersonal skills of business.
Said differently, your technical area or discipline is about WHAT you do. Your consulting and interpersonal business skills are about HOW you do it. If you are looking for a universal model, you just found it. Some examples will help explain this.
When It’s Not Done Well
Joe, a Finance Specialist, was tasked to bring the company’s processes and systems into compliance with a new Government regulation. In response, Joe asked the IT Department to design new software for the affected systems and gave them a list of requirements. He then rewrote three affected processes himself to make them compatible with the new software and the regulation. Patting himself on the back for moving so quickly, Joe rushed to implementation. He told IT to go live with the new software, and sent an email to all system users in the company with the three new procedures attached, telling everyone the system has changed and that they must now use the new procedures.
Within 15 minutes the phone calls and emails started flooding in. People were up in arms that they had no warning about the change, that this was a major disruption to their work, and that they should have been involved in designing the changes. After the CEO got wind of the problem and called Joe’s VP, the VP brought the project to an abrupt halt.
What Went Wrong
- Joe didn’t Engage those affected by the change early in the initiative. In fact, he only engaged IT to do some work.
- Joe did not work to Align those affected around the system or process changes, or the implementation plan. In addition, Joe was unaware of the impacts the changes would have on the various parts of the company.
- Joe virtually skipped the Engage and Align steps and went straight into Execute. This doomed Execution from the start. While this transactional approach can work for very simple tasks that don’t involve others, it usually ends quite poorly when collaboration is required.
In contrast to Joe’s experience, let’s look at an example where the Engage, Align, Execute model is applied well.
Putting Interpersonal Business Skills To Work
Mary is an internal consultant/HR Business Partner assigned to support the Northeastern Services Division of her company. The Sr. VP of the Northeastern Division asked her to lead a project to define standard training for different job types in the Division. In response, Mary chooses the Engage, Align, Execute approach.
Mary begins by engaging the key stakeholders. She meets with and interviews the SVP and his direct reports to get their views on training, discuss how the ultimate training decisions will be made, and start building working relationships. In her conversations she takes care to “read” the person and tailor her interaction strategy accordingly. As a result, her astute questions not only display her knowledge and interest in the training topic. They also communicate that she is listening and responding accordingly.
After compiling and analyzing the input, Mary asks the SVP to call a meeting with his direct reports. Importantly, she wanted to start to build alignment within the team. At the meeting, Mary presents the results of her interviews, her analysis of the core needs and issues, and three options for how to identify and develop a standard curriculum. She then facilitates a discussion with the team to ensure they have a common understanding of the Division’s training needs and challenges, and the potential solution options. On that basis, she leads the team through a group decision making process and they select the solution option Mary is recommending.
With the team aligned around a solution, Mary develops an Implementation Project Plan, circulates it among the team members for review and comment, and then sends back a final revision. Delighted, the SVP gives her the green light to put the plan in motion.
Leveraging her preparation, Mary executes the steps in her plan, working with the stakeholders and providing status along the way. She is able to overcome and mitigate implementation risks that materialize. This is due to her preparation for those in the Risk Management portion of her Project Plan. Because of her good work engaging and aligning the team, and planning the project, the execution goes quite smoothly. The project is a big success!
In this example, Mary does a great job of Engaging, Aligning, and Executing. However, as we saw in the earlier example, when one or more of these steps is not done carefully and thoughtfully, it can spell disaster for a project or task.
Try Out The Model
You can test this model on your own projects and tasks. Just ask yourself, what did/will I do to Engage, Align, and Execute? If you ran into problems, in which step could you have done more or worked differently to avoid them? Undoubtedly, this self-reflection will be well worth your time.
Tips For Training Professionals
If you are evaluating the training needs of a department or organization, you can use this model to analyze and articulate the interpersonal business skill training needs. For example, when developing HR Generalists to become HR Business Partners, they typically need help engaging executives more effectively so they have “a seat at the table.” To that end, they must communicate more like an executive, step into the executive’s world, and show immediate value. In addition, they must align their business goals to those of the executive and develop skills in aligning the executive’s staff and others around important business initiatives and decisions.
Above all, execution should be done effectively and with confidence. Along the way, all of these things must be done in ways that build trust with the executive. The model provides a useful context for, and categorization of, business soft skill training needs.
The Bottom Line
Whatever your technical discipline, if you want to work more effectively, practice these three things: Engage, Align, and Execute.