The need for IT professionals to become more consultative and build trusted partner relationships with clients is a very common theme throughout IT organisations today. There are still some that ask, ‘Is it really vital to develop consulting skills?’ ‘Shouldn’t I spend my time building my technical certifications and technical skills?’
In the modern business world, you need to bring value to the table. To do this effectively, you must understand the business and strategy, bring technology to bear on achieving this and have the human interaction (consulting) skills so that people will actually be able to hear your message.
IT and the business have become one and one should not be pursued without the other. IT professionals who remain more excited about technology for technology sake rather than its application to business initiatives will find themselves working on non-strategic, non-core and rather boring projects – if they continue to work at all.
As consultants, there are 4 different roles that we can play to best serve our clients based on their needs. The caveat here is that these roles are not specific people, they are roles that all of us can play and adapt between depending on what is required in a given consulting situation.
Role# 1: Technical wizard
This is the hero role. Technical wizards descend on a problem and magically save the day. Heroes are critical members of your team, especially in times of crisis. The downside of wizards is they don’t necessarily build a shared understanding or a long term commitment. There are some clients that love it when IT takes over, they have no involvement themselves but are free to point the finger when the root cause is not resolved.
Role # 2: Technical assistant
This is when IT is the order taker. You are the fast food restaurant of the organisation. The organisations knows (or seemingly knows) exactly what it wants and IT carries out the stated requirements. The risk here is that order may not be the right solution. The role can result in clients getting exactly what they asked for but not what they need. The mismatch can occur because the client is not informed as to realities of what it will take to fulfil the requirement and IT doesn’t fully understand the business situations that the clients is operating in.
Role # 3: Silent influencer
A silent influencer, is not silent. They informally provide a great deal of influence on the client’s perspective. Through regular communication and information sharing with clients, you get a greater and greater understanding of their business needs and objectives. You are up to date on existing business initiatives and projects and based on this provide information and suggestions from IT’s prospective on how to achieve them. This role very often leads to greater ownership and in-depth understanding of solutions from the client. Remember, if you are not influencing your client, someone else will be!
Role # 4: Problem-solving partner
This is the role where you have the greatest level of influence. You and your clients are going on a journey together. You mutually decide where you are going and the route to getting there. You both bring value perspectives and considerations that are taken into account along the way. There is no blaming when an unexpected problem occurs. You work together, reassess your options, and then proceed. You share in your successes and wins together and share in mistakes as lessons learned for your next journey together.
The technical wizard and the technical assistant role are often the roles on which IT builds a solid reputation. It is these roles when excelled at on level 1 (supplier) of IT Maturity Curve that allow you to progress up the curve. When your clients have confidence in your ability to deliver value, they will then be receptive to your role as a silent influencer or a problem solving partner. But remember, what determines which role is most appropriate is the situation that is being addressed.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with over 35,000 people to create high performance organisations, teams and individuals.
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