High Impact Consulting

High Impact Consulting
Robert Schaffer
Review by Rosemary Wickman

Implementation gap:all the things that a client or org. would have to do in order to benefit from a consultant; and what the client/org is, in fact, capable of doing.

Consultant:provides unique knowledge, skills, insights, methods or technology that is aimed at helping leaders get better results.No direct authority to require those leaders to follow your advice.

Success in consulting:

  1. Consultant must provide a solution or a method new to the client
  2. Client must achieve measurable improvement
  3. Client must be able to sustain the improvement over time.
  4. Consultant must be more than an expert, must serve as an effective change agent and share accountability with the client for the ultimate outcome of the project.

Conventional consulting is based on the assumption that the key to progress is knowledge.Real-world experience suggests that this is false and that much more often it is not being able to do it.

The value of the consultant depends on the client’s ability to absorb and use the strategies and skills to achieve better results.High Impact Consultingis based on the client’s ability to absorb and use the solutions.Client success must be carefully designed into the process.Success must include both implementation and learning.

For the Consultant:the tendency to blame the other party instead of blaming the essential flaws of the methodology will have to change if you are going to have greater success.

Effective action occurs only when the consultant’s recommendations are aligned with the client’s motivation and skills.


1.      Project defined in terms of consultant’s deliverables.Consulting projects are defined in terms of the work the consultant will do and the ‘products’ the consultant will deliver, but not in terms of specific client results to be achieved.The assumption is always that the consultant’s deliverables will eventually be translated into the client’s desired results.By accepting projects defined this way, clients allow consultants to escape sharing the accountability for measurable performance results.

High impact consulting defines projects in terms of specific client performance goals that will be attained.

2.      Project scope ignores client readiness.The project scope is determined mainly by the subject to be studied or the problem to be solved, with little regard for the client’s readiness for change.Rarely do consultants consider questions like these:

  • What kind of recommendations might we make at the completion of this study?
  • What kinds of changes would the client have to carry out to make it work?
  • How likely is it that our client will want to carry out those changes – and/or will have the ability to do so?

Explore what the client might actually be willing and able to implement.

High-impact consulting determines project scope based on an assessment of what the client is likely to be willing and able to implement.

3.Grandiose Solutions:Projects aim for one big solution rather than incremental successes.Managers might be more willing to take some modest, low-risk steps to test some of the ideas and assumptions of the consultant.It may not always be possible or desirable to study the issue in it’s entirety andoffer a complete remedy.This comes from the fairly common view that the consultant is a heavy hitter who provides answers and solutions but is not responsible for execution and results.

High-impact consulting divides projects into increments with rapid cycle times for quicker results.

4         Hand-offs back and forth:projects entail a sharp division of responsibility between client and consultant; there is little sense of partnership between them. Responsibility is passed back and forth, not shared.Involvement of the client is essential – the presentation of occasional reports from the consultant is not enough.

High-impact consulting encourages both parties to work and learn together, in full partnership mode, through every stage of the project.

5.      Labor intensive use of consultants:Projects make labor- intensive use of consultants, instead of leveraged use.This flaw is and inevitable consequence of the other four.When consultants don’t get client personnel to assume major roles on projects and don’t transfer knowledge to client personnel, that is the essence of labor-intensive consulting.

High-impact consulting makes leveraged use of small consulting teams

The ability to make things happen, to effect change, is the most critical dimension of organizational success.High impact consulting is based on the belief that fostering an organization’s ability to implement change is the key to strengthening its fundamental capability.


THE ZEST FACTORS:The more an undertaking is characterized by these zest factors, the more a group will mobilize it’s energies, overturn barriers, and set aside low value-added activities:

¨      The focus is on a few critical results

¨      Goals are clear, measurable and short-term

¨      Project has a real sense of urgency

¨      People see that success depends on them

¨      People realize they must experiment to achieve their goals

Conventional consultants, with the support of clients, focus on studies, preparations, reformations, training, new systems, and anything except trying to get an immediate bottom-line result.

Conventional consulting encouragesthe focus on introducing new management tools, techniques, systems or directions.In fact, preparations-first consulting often has little or no impact on the client’s bottom line.

High Impact Consulting clients and consultants, from the first moment, focus on achieving some tangible result. – Not systems, reports, recommendations, studies, strategies – UNLESS they include a measurable bottom-line result in short order.

¨      Concentrating on a clear, short-term goal stimulates the performance-enhancing zest factors.

¨      Client and consultant share the common goal of producing real results, so they are motivated to work together.


Management Development and Training:

The traditional idea is that FIRST managers are trained and developed and when that is done THEN better results should follow.

High Impact Consulting view: If managers could figure out how to accomplish some performance breakthroughs and deliver some tangible results, they would learn a lot about managing that they could never learn in an academic setting.Design a program in which managers develop performance goals they would like to achieve in a specific time frame.

Why consultants may resist focusing on results:

¨      Fear of losing control:when the consultant no longer defines the project in terms of tasks they will perform it can be very uncomfortable – because you areno longer in control of the success factors

¨      Information addiction:consultants are often convinced they cannot set any specific results goals until they do all their research.

¨      Need for an escape hatch.With the traditional consulting format the consultant is responsible for delivering the deliverables and the client is responsible for achieving results.If the job doesn’t work out, you can say the project was great – the client failed to implement properly.

Why clients may resist focusing on results:

¨      When you hire a consultant you take a modest risk.If the project works you can claim credit, if it doesn’t you can blame the consultant.With a commitment to a result you are now exposed to the risk of failure.

¨      Comfort with competent consultants at work.There is something reassuring to impatient managers about having competent, consultants bustling around.There is a psychological comfort and sense of purpose, directed action using a consultant.

¨      Comfort with the familiar paradigm:Used to the conventional consulting paradigm and derive a certain comfort from it.

Match the Project Scope to What the Client is Ready to Do:(Page 75)

Most consultants explore the technical and operational issues but fail to investigate the client’s willingness and ability to actually implement the recommendations.

How to Assess Readiness:Once a client and consultant have agreed on the general aims of the project the next step is to agree to assess readiness and then design their project to match that readiness.Readiness exploration is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.

¨      Readiness Assessment Checklist:Page 82-83

¨      Suggested Readiness Openers:Page 85

Client System Mapping:Developing a clear Who’s Who that identifies all the key players and influencers.

¨      Project Cast of Characters:page 91

Rapid-cycle project design: Rather than design an overall solution at once, the aim is to carve off a series of rapid-cycle projects to create some measurable results for the client in the shortest possible time.Choosing to pursue a rapid-cycle attack does not mean opting for the tactical instead of the strategic.In the middle of an issue/crisis the org needs information that can translate to immediate help, that can be absorbed at once.The focus on the immediate does not mean one has lost the strategic view.

Rapid Cycle project design is:

¨      Focused o n achieving measurable results

¨      Matched to client readiness

¨      Short-term

¨      Strategic


¨      Start small

¨      Pick your target

¨      Bite off what you can chew

¨      Make the most of what you have

¨      Find a door instead of a wall

¨      Make a low-risk test before taking the plunge

¨      Try for an end run.

Any business that takes all its chips and puts them on the table for a single, high-risk roll of the dice must have some sort of death wish.Client managers, no matter how strange it may seem to consultants, insist on the low-risk rapid-cycle pattern even when launching the largest, most complex systems.

Management Development Through Management Results:(page 127)

1.                  Diagnose readiness:When selecting a goal, be pretty certain that the team/org. will accomplish it.

2.                  Achievable Goals:If necessary, take a larger goal and turn it into several sub goals, each with a start and end date and measurable outcome

3.                  Framing demands for Goal accomplishment:communicate effectively so that the team knows that the goal MUST be achieved.Not a nice to do, but a must.

4.                  Improving performance through an action-oriented experimental approach. Focusing on short-term, manageable steps that begin to move toward a broader goal and also permit the managers to learn as they go reduces the natural tendency to feel that the goal is impossible by providing new tactics.

5.                  Involving people in performance improvement:Managers need to learn how to engage their people in planning the changes and carrying them out.

6.                  Developing work planning and project management skills:Many managers lack well-developed skills in managing change.In order to succeed the managers must learn skills in project planning and management including; how the project is organized, how it will be managed, how it will be carried out. And how to work with groups of peers, subordinates and consultants.

7.                  Dealing with conflicts, frustrations and disappointments:There will be obstacles along the way, including considerable resistance.

8.                  Working with a consultant.Most managers are uncertain about how to properly manage a consulting relationship.Consulting in a partnership mode assists the managers in asserting their views, asking for the kind of help they need, and be the active, leading role on the project.

Any client who fails to receive the learning and development benefits that should accrue from a consulting project is being cheated by the consulting process.

Developing learning organizations that really learn (page 133)

It is not enough for organizations to perform well today.Tomorrow’s requirements are sure to be very different so the leadership of orgs, must develop major attention to making certain that their people learn what they will need to know in order to succeed in the future.

The traditional steps of organizational learning:

1.                  First step is cognitive: learn new ideas, expand their knowledge and begin to think differently.

2.                  Second is behavioral:Employees begin to internalize new insights and change their behavior.

3.                  Performance improvement: with changes in behavior leading to measurable improvements in results – superior quality, better delivery, increased market share.

This thinking is based on the belief that cognitive change(insight and knowledge) lead to behavioral change which leads to results.

There is a lack of appreciation of the fact that setting and achieving sharply defined, challenging goals and learning from the experience and then doing it again, can be the most powerful vehicle for expanding the capacity to set and achieve even more challenging goals.Little learning happens in orgs that do not have frequent experience in setting tough goals and then mobilizing their wits and energies to achieve them.





High-impact consulting – working in partnership – allows the people of the company to learn how to deal with clients in a more mature way.The consultant may do the task more clearly – but the slight loss of “accuracy” is minimal compared to the benefit of having the orgs people do the work.

Move Toward Highly Leveraged Consulting:

¨      Select initial projects that have a high probability of success – the group that needs the most help is unlikely to be the one with the best hope of success. Generatemomentum with success

¨      Emphasize skill development of client personnel:Many of the tasks that consultants carry our can be done by the orgs people with some training and support.

¨      Train internal consultants or facilitators to support the work.

¨      Develop and experimental, action-oriented mode of working

¨      Help senior people lead the change

¨      Use interventions that engage large groups



A high-impact consulting project requires the client and consultant to thoughtfully explore what they want to achieve together and how to achieve it.The result is a Project Contract outlining their respective roles and commitments from the beginning of the project to the end.This is a mutual contracting process in contrast to “submit a proposal” process.

In high-impact consulting the contracting process is as important as the contract itself – being a structured approach to managing all the issues, identifying the most urgent client goals, assessing client readiness, defining specific goals for the first subprojects, agreeing on the best way for the client and consultant to work together on the project.

The need to identify THE client is frequently overlooked.It is much easier for internal consultants than external consultants to drift into projects where there is no clearly identified client because their fees usually do not have to be negotiated.It is easy for an internal group to start their efforts overlooking the fact that no one is accountable for the project.

No matter how many other people are involved, it is THE accountable client who, from the first moment, is the consultant’s counterpart within the organization.

Versatility:Versatility is the key ingredient.To provide a men with choices means having a variety of choices ready to respond to a client’s requests.With a range of options, both can review the possibilities and discuss them and speculate how each might play out.Design versatility is the capacity to provide a menu of project possibilities

A senior manager who wants a consultant to help achieve certain results but does not convey to subordinate managers that they – not the consultant – are responsible for achieving those results in apt to be in for a big disappointment.

Hiring a consultant cannot substitute for making demands. Senior management must communicate clear performance expectations to the lower-level who will beworking with the consultant.

Expectations Profoundly Affect Performance; Page 189

Fe managers possess the capacity or feel compelled to establish high performance-improvement expectations in ways that elicit results.Indeed the capacity for such demand making could well be the most universally underdeveloped management skill.

Demanding Better results and getting them: A self assessmentPage 199

Build communication Bridges and Overcome AnxietyPage 203


Anxiety at work:Behaviors of consultants and clients that reflect anxiety:

¨      Leaping to answers

¨      Compulsive talking

¨      Having a cast-iron front

¨      Using jargon and other forms of one-upmanship

Challenges to client-consultant communication:

¨      The need to define the project right up front in terms of specific client goals and results to be achieved.Need to elicit clients’ views and perspective on the issue; help the client think out loud; summarize the statements and check for understanding.

¨      The need to base the scope of each project on client readiness means that the consultant can not move forward without some pretty accurate understanding of the client situation

¨      The aim of leveraging the consultant’s effort by having client people play a significant role requires some creative design work.


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  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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