Category Archives: Consulting Philosophy

Square Zero

I’ve never understood the concept of “square one.” If you want to start anew, then erase the board, tear off the sheet, delete the entry.

Square zero is your starting mindset approaching a prospect. There are two primary chords which seem to be played:

1. How can I get this business? How can I “sell” this person? What objections will I have to overcome? What are the weaknesses in my arguments? How much money can I make?

2. How can I best provide value? What improvements will be most impressive? How can I help this buyer exceed expectations and objectives? How much help can I provide?

You’re either walking in—and pre-determining you success—with a “take” or a “give” mindset. Every day I hear from people who want to “take” something from me. I ignore them or tell them “no thanks.” But I stop to pay attention to the very few who seem to sincerely want to give me something.

What’s your mindset at the outset?

Start again at square zero.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

Jack Webb played detective Joe Friday in the old Dragnet TV series, and he was constantly requesting that he be told “just the facts,” and not opinion, hearsay, suggestions, or personal bias.

The same applies to us in consulting. I coach people every week who want to know what to do with the equivalent of schoolyard gossip and casual rumor. Of course employees may say they can to the job better than the boss who got the position through “connections.” Of course senior management is going to claim that people should be motivated because the pay is good, so there must be something wrong with them. Of course sales and R&D will usually blame each other for results below expectations.

These are normal organizational dynamics. You can’t act on them as if you believe you’re hearing the truth! Here is how to deal with what you hear:

1. Ask: What is your evidence for that statement? Can you give me an example of where and when it occurred and who else witnessed it or heard it?

2. Ask: What is the actual observed behavior? How does this manifest itself in front of others?

You don’t want amateur (or even professional) psychoanalysis. You want to know what is actually visible in the environment so that you can verify it yourself. Validate what you hear before acting on it, or you’ll be most likely acting on what people prefer to believe and not what’s actually happening.

It’s bad enough to carry a flame thrower onto the ice. But if you light it, and then point it at your feet, you’ll find yourself quite quickly in cold, deep water. And that’s a fact.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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But Why?

My twin granddaughters keep asking “Why?” ever since they learned to speak. “Why is the car top down?” “Why don’t all cars have tops that go down?” “Why don’t trucks have tops that go down?”

You get the drift.

It’s a great habit, one often ignored by consultants. A buyer says, “We need a two-day strategy retreat” (or a week of coaching or interviews with our clients or a focus group) and the consultant tries to figure out how to convince the buyer that he or she can meet the demand and get the money. That is a commodity approach.

However, if the more confident consultant simply asked, “Why do you want that?” one might discover a completely higher level of need with more impact, larger value, and higher fees. That is a value-based approach.

“We need a leadership development workshop.”


“Because our leaders aren’t acting in concert with each other and are too often competing with each other.”


“Because I’m the third CEO in three years and they have become very territorial and mistrusting.”

“Then let me suggest that a ‘program’ isn’t the answer, but that we need a range of interventions, some individual, some group, and some starting with you.”

The questions “Why?” raises the level of the decision and also raises the ante.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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When you’re regarded as the expert:

• People defer to your judgment.

• You create the reality (“This isn’t a compensation issue but rather a recognition issue”).

• Fees aren’t a factor in selecting you.

• You work solely with high level people.

• You determine the types of interventions, not the client.

• Bold, innovative, contrarian recommendations are taken seriously.

• You set the speed and style of the intervention.

• Resistance and critique are not factors.

• The client feels grateful to have worked with you.

How do you regard, present, and conduct yourself? Do you see yourself as an expert who is an immediate peer of the buyer, or as a hired hand who will be quickly delegated to HR and resisted by entrenched habits and resentment?

The choice is yours. This is your career and your life. Unless you surrender your status.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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I held my first group session in our new retreat facility last week, and midway though the morning  a huge boom at one of the windows overlooking the pond startled all of us. We looked up to see a hawk recovering its bearings, and flying back across the water into the woods.


A red-tailed hawk can reach about 25 MPH in level flight (120 MPH when diving—a peregrine can manage 150), and it must have been doing that when it collided with the class. A smaller bird would have killed itself, but the hawk’s beak must have absorbed the impact, and it looked fine albeit somewhat confused flying off.


I think we often collide with things we don’t see, yet, unlike the hawk, we’re sentient beings and should be able to surmise and predict. We collide with surprising buyer responses, with non-supportive stakeholders, with unexpected information, and with dilatory payment and deadlines unmet. If we’re small birds, these impediments can kill us. But even as large birds, they’ll give us quite a headache and force us to reverse course with even more dire results.


There’s nothing criminal about being surprised on occasion, but there is something negligent about being continually surprised. There’s nothing unique about encountering an unforeseen obstacle, but there is something reckless about charging full steam ahead into the unknown.


If you see what is clearly a buyer and are certain of no traps around that buyer, then by all means go to diving speed. But if you’re pursuing your own ideas in your own perspective and in duplication of what you’ve always done, you may want to slow down and reconnoiter. That clear sky you see might just be an illusion.


© Alan Weiss 2014

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Pride and Prejudice

There’s a saying attributed to Xenophanes observing that if horses and cattle were asked to draw pictures of God, they would draw pictures of horses and cattle.


If you ask an insurance agent for an investment vehicle, the agent will suggest insurance. If you ask a trainer for the best way to develop employees, the trainer will suggest a training program. If you ask a manager at American airlines for a good airline…well, you get the idea.


Social media marketing gurus assure us that we can all improve our marketing by following their advice for social media, irrespective of our products, services, or potential clients. PR firms believe the answer to all  ills is more PR.


What we all need is objective, non-aligned advice from true and independent experts. Someone who solely gives me investment advice, and doesn’t represent a variety of vehicles for sale, will provide me better quality advice than the person with their own products on the shelf. A true marketing expert will help me far more than someone wedded to social media. A great ski instructor shouldn’t be trying to sell me skis or vacation packages in Vermont.


I admire people who take pride in their work and believe in their own alternatives, but not to the extent that I want to follow clearly biased advice. I’ve told people that they don’t need me, or don’t really need help, or I’m not the right one for them. That’s because I try to keep in mind their best interests and not my own. I’m not here to “sell” I’m here to help.


Be careful about the sources to whom you listen. Are they trying to help you or hawk their own wares? If you asked them to draw success, would it look like their success or yours?


© Alan Weiss 2014

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Prospect Discussion Sequence

IF you’re confident your meeting is with a buyer, here’s a suggested sequence to organize a first encounter around meeting your maximum objective: agreement to consider a proposal and discuss it in the next few days.


▪   Opening. Niceties, greetings, etc.

▪   Intention (why are we here?). Objectives, agenda, timing, etc.

▪   Rapport building. Their time in position, where from, view of the industry, etc.

▪   Structured conversation. Listen for key issues you can help with, move to focus on them.

▪   Value. Provide ideas and provocation around “what” (not “how”).

▪   Pivot point. Suggest your help with priority concern(s) and offer a proposal.

•  Disengage. Agree to next time, date, and action.

You’ll find that you may have opportunities to “jump ahead” in the sequence, but don’t get fooled by “What can you do for us?” or “We need a strategic retreat.” And if you find the buyer agreeing very rapidly and offering no objections, then the odds are you’re simply being softly ushered out.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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If You’re An Expert….

• You have opinions of value based on your knowledge and experience that are provocative and don’t have to be otherwise justified or substantiated.

• You are cited by others (positively or negatively).

• You create new intellectual property on a continuing basis.

• You are global in your impact, utilizing technology, appearing on varied platforms.

• You command high fees.

• You don’t need to cite others’ work to buttress your own.

• You are a contributor who creates better conditions for people and organizations.

If you’re not an expert, then why would I want to hire you when I could hire an expert for critical projects and needs?  Are you merely trying to make money by accepting any business you can obtain, or are you a contributor trying to make an impact?

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Are You An Expert Or A Delivery Wagon?

If you walk into a meeting with a buyer oriented toward a “solution” or methodology, you’re going to default to it like a homing pigeon no matter what the buyer says about his or her needs. If you walk in with the intent to remain “present” and in the moment, you’ll be able to respond to what the buyer is expressing as important.

I’ve heard consultants respond to a buyer who says, “We need to improve our repeat business from existing clients,” with, “We should talk about a 360° assessment approach.” Really? Why would that be? I’d guess it’s because it’s what the consultant has on his or her mind and/or it’s the only reliable offering they possess.

A true expert can provide and express that expertise in any variety of ways—coaching, consulting, training, writing, mentoring, facilitating, and so forth. The means will depend on the ends. But a limited consultant will rely only on the means at his or command, irrespective of whether they are best for the client and the client’s current issues.

When you default to an arbitrary methodology or approach you are on the road at best to a limited, ineffective project and at worst to a quick exit from the meeting. The best projects, after all, provide maximum value to an appreciative client with minimum labor for you.

© Alan Weiss 2015

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Consulting for Dummies

I’m told that this is an actual passage from the author and book listed below. Supposedly, he is using his “50 years of consulting experience” to instruct the reader on how to consult.

I’d say he’s 50 years (or more) out of date. You don’t bill by time units, you don’t find “solutions” (you create improved performance), and I respect my clients far more than to think they just want justification as to why they can’t accomplish things.

This is just enormously cynical, stupid, and wrong. That’s why you have to be careful about to whom you listen, and don’t equate years on the job with brains between the ears.

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The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully by Gerald M. Weinberg

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