Designing Consultant Development Programs
There are seven critical elements you need to consider when planning your Consultant Development Program if you want to truly enhance the level and type of service your professional service employees provide to their clients. We refer to these elements as The Seven Pillars. Together they make up, and hold up, a complete approach to building effective consulting organizations.
The wisdom in the Seven Pillars is that they address consultant development as a systemic ongoing change, not just a training event. Not that there is anything wrong with training events. It’s just that our clients are typically interested in not only consulting skills development, but also a translation of these new skills into sustainable behavioral changes among their professionals. So, almost by definition, that means they need more than a consulting skills training event. They need a Consultant Development Program, one that considers all that is important to consider in such programs. Seven pillars…
That is not to say that your program needs to incorporate 100% of every pillar to be successful. Not only is that unrealistic for most organizations, it is not necessary. At the same time, we would not suggest completely eliminating one or more pillars from your program. That promises to bite you in the end with sub-optimal results, or worse, organizational backlash and deteriorating morale.
Find Your Optimal Balance Point
We recommend making well-informed trade-off decisions about what your program will, and will not, include in each pillar to find the optimum balance point between program scope, cost, expected results, and risk. While that takes more effort than simply scheduling training events, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Your vendor (we prefer “partner”), or whomever you may find to help you with this process, should help take the complexity out of it. They should put you in the driver’s seat as the decision maker and overall program leader. Nevertheless, it is important that you be armed with sufficient knowledge and understanding about what is important to consider in your Consultant Development Program.
An Overview of the Seven Pillars
I briefly describe each of the Seven Pillars of Consultant Development Programs below. As you read each description, notice how the pillars “fit” together and support one another to create an integrated approach.
Defined Business Goals
Consultant Development Programs optimally target business goals. For example, you may want to improve customer focus, increase upselling, manage clients and scope more effectively, etc. Goals provide an important emphasis for the program as well as natural targets for program performance metrics. They also help leaders explain why the program is important to the business. Even a general purpose Consultant Development Program can have targeted business goals.
Discovery and Planning
A Discovery phase provides the Consultant Development Program with clarification of the vision for change, including identification of the consulting competencies to be developed. In addition, Discovery reveals the organizational and operational elements that would ideally be “adjusted” to support and sustain the change. On the basis of these results, you will then develop a Program Plan. Preferably this is done using a process that provides the Client Leader the opportunity to make clearly informed trade-off decisions between scope and cost, while planning for the management of the risks associated with the items left out of scope.
Adequate State of Readiness
Establishing an adequate state of readiness before any significant change can make the difference between success and failure. While there may be different opinions regarding what is “adequate”, avoid the three most common “derailers” of Consultant Development Programs. The first is disagreement among leaders regarding the program. The second is insufficient advance communication with those who will be affected by the change. And the third is unaddressed organizational and/or operational obstacles to implementing the change. Therefore, for Consultant Development Programs, readiness activities often focus on Leadership Alignment, Program Communications, and Organizational and Operational Enablement.
Multi-Level Learning Continuum
Consultant Development Programs, at the minimum, provide training in consulting skills. More robust programs also layer on training in associated topics. These may include business presentations, business writing, coaching and feedback, service delivery, business acumen, and other interpersonal business skills. It is important, however, to recognize that most organizations include professionals at different job levels with various levels of experience. Therefore, a multi-level learning continuum that differentiates audience levels will have a much greater impact on learning and development than a “one size fits all” curriculum. These levels may include, for example, beginning, intermediate, and advanced.
Ongoing Reinforcement and Development
Perhaps more than any other pillar of Consultant Development Programs, Ongoing Reinforcement and Development drives sustainable change. It transforms isolated learning events into developmental journeys, greatly enhancing the impact and value of the program. Ongoing reinforcement and development takes on many forms, depending on the specific needs of the organization. For example, to enhance and reinforce skill development, and drive behavior change, managers may provide their consultants with additional opportunities for education, exposure, and experience. To enhance the capabilities of managers as coaches, managers may receive additional training in coaching consultants for consulting skill development. You can augment this with technology solutions such as Online Toolkits and Refreshers. Finally, integrating reinforcement and ongoing learning into daily activities (e.g., sharing successes and challenges at staff meetings), is an excellent addition to other Reinforcement and Development activities.
Systemic Enablement and Sustainment
There are three primary reasons why “adjusting” systemic operational elements is important to the success of Consultant Development Programs. First, these adjustments remove obstacles and enable the overall change. Second, they enhance the change by ensuring that all of the “moving parts” are operating in concert. And third, they ultimately sustain the change and the new consulting behaviors by building them into “the way we do things around here.” In other words, they become part of the culture and the norm. Systemic “adjustments” range from quick and minor, to long-term and difficult. It is not always realistic to address all of the more difficult ones during the Consultant Development Program. You may need to make well informed tradeoff decisions, given the limitations of time and budget. Ideally, you can address those things left out of scope in future programs.
Performance Measurement and Reporting
This pillar takes us full circle now, back to the business goals identified early on in the program. Establishing performance measures to gauge the program’s progress against the business goals, and periodically reporting progress during the life of the program, is a powerful “lever of change.” It documents the value and benefits of the program. It helps justify the investment. And it helps motivate people to embrace the program and earnestly develop themselves and their organizations.