When I first started as a management consultant back at Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath, one of the hardest things for me to grasp was the concept of "client facilitation". Many of the consultants I knew where eager to apply standard MBA frameworks like Five Forces (for competitive and profitability analysis), NPV and financial analysis tool, statistical regression, and the marketing 3Cs/STP/4Ps, but few talked about client facilitation in explicit terms.
In my mind, client facilitation refers to the processes (and skills) that a consultant uses to get a client organization to critical decision points, deep understanding, and committment to move forward or redirect.
A master of client facilitation is a person that can:
- Master analysis skills of the trade: use top-down logical reasoning, use many analytical frameworks, work analyses from multiple directions
- Communicate well: whether it be via face-to-face conversation, writing, phone, or instant messaging (yikes)
- Teach and frame things properly: because interactions with parties may be varied, quick and because parties may have varying levels of knowledge, one must be able to ramp-up conversation levels quickly and put them in the proper context
- Recognize where the organization is at and how decisions are made: is the marketing department behind in their understanding? who does the CEO look to as his/her right hand? if so, what are the steps to getting the right hand on-board or up-to-speed? how do we get things to tip? can we get there in one step or will it take two steps?
- Lead people *without formal authority*: can you educate people, empathize with the organization, get the organization to trust you, and pave a vision and/or outline a set of tradeoffs with such clarity that motion must happen?
In my opinion, the last skill is probably the most important aspect to master regarding client facilitation. I daresay it is the essence of client facilitation, but I am pretty damn close to it. Client facilitation skills are specialized leadership skills which are all about leading people without formally being in charge.
Update 2/20/08: Gautam Ghosh points me to one of his posts that does an excellent job of discriminating between other types of "consulting" and "facilitative consulting". Again, this topic is not one that I've seen many people write about outside of more terse, academically-oriented publications. That said, the subject of facilitation is a very, very important aspect of management consuting and in my mind applies to more than 90% (just to pull a number out of the air) of the engagements I have ever been on or run.