Off on the Right Foot

The client/consultant relationship can potentially be a positive, life giving relationship infusing energy throughout an organization, or it can be a contentious relationship of mutual tolerance for selfish outcomes. Insuring the client/consultant relationship is healthy is one of the biggest challenges in consulting.

One source for tension in the client/consultant relationship is how much consultants charge for services. Early on in consulting, businesses were paying upwards of $2 billion, often for impractical data and poorly implemented recommendations (Turner, 1982), which created a stigma throughout the organizational world against consultants. This stigma has led to relational tension, but can be overcome by establishing clearer expectations for clients (Turner, 1982), and providing successful methods and techniques that lead to tangible actions lower organizational bottom lines (McKnight, 2009). This will change the perception often held against consultants that they are only concerned about prolonging their assignments and are unable to appreciate the practicalities of managerial issues (Turner, 1982).

For consultants, this begins with communicating clearly what can be expected and knowing if the assignment should be taken. These four steps can help shed light on this issue: 1) have a position when negotiating, 2) ensure terms are realistic (do not say yes to each assignment), 3) watch the culture being entered, and 4) do not rush to an agreement (Sherwin, 2013). Following these steps will insure the client/consultant relationship starts off on the right foot. Once established, then the consultant can work with the client to structure a hierarchy of goals for the engagement, beginning with the most basic objective, communicating deliverables for each objective to insure the methods used provide answers being sought (Turner, 1982). This will allow clients to feel secure they are receiving value paid for, and anchor the consultant from being lost in the organization (McKnight, 2009).


McKnight, W. (2009). 90 days to success in consulting. Australia ; Boston, MA: Course Technology Cengage Learning.

Sherwin, D. (2012). Success by design: the essential business reference for designers. Blue Ash, OH: HOW Books.

Turner, A. N. (1982). Consulting is more than giving advice. Harvard Business Review, 60(5), 120.

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