This blog post was originally written for and published by the Christian Leadership Alliance. Mark L. Vincent created this blog by adapting an excerpt from his recent book, Listening Helping Learning: Core Competencies of Process Consulting.
In recent years the work of Ed Schein began to distinguish between the expertise and knowledge often plied as the trade of consulting, and the more iterative method of bringing curiosity and co-creating the needed work with the Client. What is known as the field of Process Consulting began emerging and charting a different trajectory. With recent stories of traditional consulting firms upselling their Clients, the difference between these styles of consulting has never been more starkly painted. Here are a couple of definitions that can help paint the difference for anyone leading a ministry or non-profit that intends to acquire an outside consultative perspective.
A general term. It can mean almost anyone who thinks they have something to offer by selling one’s time or intellectual property. From a Client perspective “Consultant” might mean anyone other than an employee retained for a specific task or access to intellectual property.
Someone experienced in being a thought partner alongside a Client. They ask iterative design questions and develop with a Client a sequence of steps the Client intends to follow to address their objectives. Process Consultants can be recognized by their listening posture, their helping partnership, and their ongoing learning with the Client as the expression of Client service.
The activity of designing with a Client so that a sequence of steps emerges that a Client pursues in addressing their stated objectives. The design work is primarily accomplished through robust answers to the iterating questions WHY, WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW.
The organization that retains the Process Consultant, as well as the people of that organization. “Client” is capitalized to signify that it refers to this intersection of people and their organization. This intersection is where the Process Consultant is found listening, helping, and learning.
With these definitions in front of us, here is a little more about Process Consulting.
More on Process Consulting
Moving beyond raw data toward wisdom is a journey. Much gets discarded or distilled along the way.
- We sift raw data so it can be shared as information.
- Information is then rendered and sequenced to pass along to others as knowledge.
- Knowledge successfully and repeatedly applied in a variety of contexts become recognized expertise.
- Expertise analyzed, broken down, put back together, combined with other expertise, and then folded into an intuitive and non-anxious, creative forward leap; is one way we recognize wisdom.
The journey from mere advising to the deeper wisdom of Process Consulting follows a similar path.
- Advising in general is dispensing perspective whether it is useful, or not. Someone has a data point, and they choose to share it. An Advisor Tells.
- Intellectual Property tends to be this same perspective organized for publication and dissemination, which increasingly gets labeled as Content. Content is either for general consumption, available for a consumer’s purchase or is an add-on resource tied to a Client engagement. An Expert sells.
- Subject Matter Expertise, what we might also be describing as contracting or serving as a vendor, is that same Intellectual Property applied with a specific Client and for that Client’s context. A Subject Matter Expert sells and tells or tells and sells.
- Consulting connects multiple lines of subject matter expertise to address a Client’s unique need for change, often at a technical level. The Consultant chooses between tools, assessments, or other processes to get at what the Client needs to do. Consultants sell, assess, tell, then sell again.
- Process Consulting joins with the Client in not knowing what to do exactly, especially as the Client faces adaptive and/or complex change. The Process Consultant brings a non-anxious curiosity alongside the Client to design with the Client the steps (the process) they will follow to go from where they believe they are to where they choose to go. The Process Consultant asks, “what do you need to do?” followed by “what are you willing to do?” In partnership with the Client, the Process Consultant listens, then helps, and then learns.