Consultants Don’t Have the Answers

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They Have The Questions

We expect consultants to have “The Right Answers” to our problems. Instead, we should first expect them to have “The Right Questions.” Clients look to consultants to analyze problems, find solutions, and so on.

Before making proposals or giving advice, however, good consultants won’t jump to conclusions. They’ll:

  • Ask clients investigative questions.
  • Probe and listen carefully for underlying facts and reasons.
  • Use a client’s answers to build a reality-based approach that meets the client’s real needs.

The “right” questions are critical, especially when clients are often misled by their own assumptions about the cause of their problem. They think they need a specific expertise for a solution - that’s why they called in a consultant with those skills.

For example: A company has high employee-turnover, costing $100K per year just to recruit and on-board new people plus costly interruptions in workflow. To reduce turnover, they call in a team-building consultant to train employees to work collaboratively. They assume this will make employees feel engaged and valued as part of the organization so they won’t leave.

It’s tempting for the consultant to implement the requested training program. But, before making a proposal, this consultant should ask the potential client:

  • When did the problem start? Is turnover increasing or decreasing?
  • What are the impacts? (Costs? Work interruptions? Low morale? Increased training? Others?)
  • How many people have resigned? What is the percentage of voluntary versus involuntary separation?
  • What have you done to reduce turnover? What were the results?
  • What is the most probable cause of your high turnover?
  • What do supervisors say about why employees leave?
  • What have those who left voluntarily given as their reason for leaving?

Next, the consultant interviews employees and supervisors and finds that a major reason for the turnover is supervision’s dictator-type management style, starting at the top. So, instead of first doing team-building training, the consultant proposes a project that aims to change management’s behaviors so they are more participative, respectful and empowering.

It would have been easy to just train the employees in team-building and “take the money and run.” But, the consultant asked the right questions to get at the cause of the client’s problem and then made recommendations that best fit the client’s situation. Good consultants do this, even if they are not the right consultant to implement the solution.

Caution: Some consultants can be blinded by their own success and expertise. When invited by a potential client, there can be an unconscious temptation or bias for a consultant to view the situation as something that can be “cured” by applying his or her “specialty,” no matter what. It’s like the old saying, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Conclusion: Consultants must ask good questions, listen and probe deeply enough to reveal underlying issues. They need to put their biases aside when interviewing and analyzing answers.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Clients must ensure that consultants ask the right questions to reach objective conclusions and recommendations.

So, to get the “Right Answers,” consultants and clients must ask the “Right Questions.”

About the Author

Bob Lurz, consultants’ educator and mentor, helps skilled people launch and build consulting businesses. He “grows the economy, one consultant at a time”. Contact him at: or 585-544-2387.

Posted in: Business Tips & Advice, Eastman Business Park
Tagged: collaboration, employee engagement, problem solving, productivity