Seven skills of successful consulting
02/02/2012 § 8 Comments
Work yesterday was more a consulting day than a research day. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to start a new series. Let me start with an introductory post. I plan to run an occasional series talking about the different skills of being a consultant. Make of it what you will — hopefully you find something useful in it.
I first started economics consulting 15 years ago (yikes!). Since I’m still doing it, I figure I must be doing something right. In that time, I’ve worked in two countries for three shops with quite a few people. Some of those people have been really excellent and taught me a lot. Some have struggled, and are now doing other things. When I talk about how to do the job, I’m drawing on my own experience and the stories and lessons from lots of others.
Enough introduction, let’s get to the main part.
Successful consulting relies on seven sets of skills. If you are really lucky, you can do them all. The rest of us mere mortals have strengths and weaknesses, so there are some skills that come more easily and others that are more difficult. The good news is that you don’t have to be great at everything. But, having a list like this means you know what you’re compensating for.
Also, a lot of this can be learned, if you care to. I hope to provide some examples or even inspiration that might help with that.
The seven skills of successful consulting are:
- People skills
- Social skills
- Sales skills
- Clients skills
- Communication skills
- Technical skills
- Organisational skills
That’s the basics; I’ll build on this as we go.
There are lots of jokes about economics consultants. There’s the 2+2 joke, and the watch joke. They play on the…um…flexibility of consultants. There’s some truth behind them, of course. There’s also a reason for it. Consultants live and die on repeat business. There’s a name for a person who tells you a truth you don’t want to hear: Cassandra. It turned out so well for her. So, really, consultants need to traffic in both truth and acceptance. That often means figuring out where the line is or what you can get away with and adjusting your behaviour.
Just to round this off, let me share a lesson from a former colleague. She said she never said ‘no’ to a suggestion, proposal, or enquiry about a piece of work. She didn’t necessarily say ‘yes’, but she never said ‘no’. ‘Yes’ keeps the conversation going.
This turns out to be the first rule of improv. Hey, it works for Tina Fey. Who am I to argue?
 Why seven? Okay, there’s an element of alliteration as a mnemonic device. There’s also some truth to it.