Careers – Style counsel

Careers - Style counsel

Do you let your clients know who's boss, blind them with statistics or are you a song and dance man? Robert Craven takes a light-hearted look at different consultancy styles.

I have always grappled with the different approaches of consultants to their work, especially among the small practices and singletons. Recently I was introduced to a mnemonic which takes the Morley quote (left) and expands it to break down the approaches of consultants into several clear sub-species. “Clyde” stands for: Churners, Learners, Yearners, Discerners and Earners.

The Churner is hungry for work, taking on any assignment that is offered because it is better to be working than not! They usually putting in far more hours than the client is prepared to pay for and usually doing a lot of pretty dull, mindless and repetitive jobs.

The Learner sees every assignment as an opportunity to get involved with something that is going to be really exciting (honest!). Normally Learners charge themselves out well below market prices because of the opportunity they see to either learn new techniques, or make new contacts and CV opportunities in the project that might (but usually don’t) pay-off in the future!

The Yearner is a rather depressing character. Like the Learners, Yearners are prepared to work for next to nothing. Their hope is that their excellent works will be recognised and that the next assignment will be the properly-paid one that they have always talked about …

The Discerner is one of the few really successful consulting types.

Discerners, unlike the earlier sub-species, actually get to choose the assignments that they work on. For them, work is, on the whole, well-paid, challenging and fun. They have the necessary credentials and track record to be relatively picky about the contracts that they choose and have the life-style that they wish to have to go with it.

The Earner is the solid consultant who actually gives consulting a good name. Earners are workmanlike in their approach to the job and achieve a reasonable income from what is usually a secure business. Unlike the Yearners and Learners, they are not preoccupied with self-development and learning but simply want to do a good job for their clients.

This is not an exhaustive list, however, and I am proud to present my own classification in Craven’s Eight Consultant Styles. Like Belbin’s Eight Team Roles, each consultant possesses elements of each style although one or two styles predominate.

The Slapper tends to be pretty “macho” in approach. Slappers believe that clients need to be woken up to reality and it is their job to do this. They believe that you have to be cruel to be kind; let them know who is boss. Beware of Slappers, they are very prickly! Don’t make small talk, be personal or attack them unless you want it used as evidence against you.

The Counsellor has spent too many years on the psychotherapist’s couch to believe that we don’t have some deeper meaning than that presented in a simple question. This consultant spends much time deep in thought, and nods empathically with clients (or is it empathetically, I never knew).

Look out for passing references to NLP, TA, T-groups, sexism, racism, equal opportunities, triggers, stroking, and mentoring!

The Academic Expert is unbearable unless you are one. You cannot argue with the expert who has a statistic or a reference to dispute anything you say. These experts are preoccupied with the numbers, statistics, models and theorems, and find the academic/intellectual part of the argument (or do I mean monologue?) their raison d’etre. They seem to lack a little balance in their lives but can’t believe no-one else is interested.

The Bruce Forsyth type joined the wrong profession: “Nice to see you, to see you nice! Our first game needs two teams, a hundred sheets of paper and I want you to build an eight foot high tower in six minutes …” These people are frustrated “academic luvvies” who play games to entertain themselves and their clients. A nice way to pass the day if you are, as they say, “up for it”, but I am not always sure of the value. Be aware of the difference between cheap tricksters and genuinely inspiring styles – don’t confuse the sizzle with the steak.

The Ageing Hippy makes references to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury, the Thatcher regime, and Bob Dylan. This type delight in reminiscing on how it used to be and how it could be. They are not really rooted in the ’90s. The other give-away clue to these social anthropologists is any kind of reference to writing epitaphs, attending your own funeral, or only having six months to live. A bit head in the clouds for me, but they do make you think about how you live your life.

The Quoter has a quote for every occasion; it gets tedious eventually.

Being a Quoter gives a clue to the background (and sub-species) of the consultant but try not to confuse the symptom with the cause. Either, they went to Cambridge to read English and Philosophy and know all of the Monty Python team and most MPs, (the Don) and/or, they have little real-life experience and so learn pretty little witticisms to (apparently) demonstrate their wisdom (the Shallow Con). It’s a bit like the joke about the economist who knows 365 ways to make love to a woman but does not actually have a girl-friend himself. Destroy a Quoter’s ability to relate to you by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Don’t quote other people’s opinions, tell me what you know”.

The “Been there, Done it” type can be a raging bore – they’ve done it all and they can prove it. However, if they are of the sub-species, Hugely Successful and Interesting, then they can be fascinating as they tell you numerous stories of living with aboriginal Indians, losing a million and sacking an entire workforce. The sub-species, Tips and Wrinkles Windbags, though, can be incredibly dull. Normally they were in Burma in 1942 or running the Hong Kong operations for ICI or Ford in 1952 and don’t they let you know about it! Well-meaning souls if a bit egotistical.

The Slide Shower is also a style with some sub-species. The primitive form, the overhead projector maniac can show upwards of 200 slides an hour. They don’t vary or drift from the words on the slides and hide behind the OHP machine. The highly evolved form, is called PowerPoint Plus and uses the latest technology which whooshes and sploshes to the audience who sit in the dark with the presenter giving a commentary – a high risk strategy because if things go wrong then they really tend to screw up!

The Lovable Clown hides his or her intellect by appearing slightly foppish.

This silliness may well irritate the impatient client but behind the clowning about is a wonderful consultant waiting to be unleashed. Typical behaviour includes dropping slides, arriving late and the classic trick of writing on the whiteboard with a permanent marker. Have patience with the clown (they come in two styles, extrovert and introvert) because they are often the true stars. Do not underestimate them.

Robert Craven is the manager of executive development programmes at the University of Bath School of Management.

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