21 January 2021

The Art of Process Consultation

3 ways to help someone

I am sure sometimes you have someone approaching you with a life question. A friend or colleague who got stuck in a situation and wants to move forward, but doesn’t know how. 

For example, your friend tells you she has problems with her neighbours. Now her house doesn’t feel nice anymore and is in doubt if she should sell it.

Generally, there are 3 ways to help your friend:

Approach 1. Give your expert feedback: Immediately tell this person what you would do. “No this is not a good place for you, I suggest you sell the house!” 

Approach 2. Be like the doctor: You listen to what is needed, ask some further deepening questions and give the advice what she should do. “Considering all your input, I would advise you to start renting a house first.” 

Approach 3. Guide the other to get to the answer: You help your friend to deep out the truth of the situation, and gain insight: “What is the issue with your neighbor? What if you visualize the ideal situation? What is needed to get there? What is holding you back?”

Do you recognize the approaches, and maybe find one you would use yourself? 

In professional consultancy, there is a name for each of these approaches:

  • Approach 1: Purchase of Expertise
  • Approach 2: Doctor-patient consultation
  • Approach 3: Process Consultation

(Schein, E.H. (1997), “The concept of “client” from a process consultation perspective: A guide for change agents”, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 202-216.)

Approach 1 & 2 are very common. Actually this is the most traditional way of consulting, we all recognise. A less used -but very powerful- approach is Process Consultation. 

The role of the process consultant is not to find answers or solutions, but it is to provide a guiding process in which clients can define and solve their problems themselves. It’s the consultant as a facilitator. 

In the first 2 approaches the consultant will give the answer. The benefits to the client are probably clear: the answer is there, let’s move forward. However, this comes with a price:

1. For the client, the path from question to answer is a black box.

2. The client might not fully understand the solution.

3. The client can avoid full responsibility (it was the consultant who advised us to do this).

When working with process consultation, the responsibility remains with the client. And working with process consultation will:

  • Create full acceptance of the solution, as the client is the decision maker of each step in the process;
  • Teach the client about the consultants methods and techniques for defining and solving problems;
  • Further develop the clients own knowledge about the topic.

In this way, the process consultant will deliver a much more sustaining end result. Also, resulting in growth and development of the client himself.

The picture in this book of Marc Baaij is a nice overview of the role of the client and the consultant in the different approaches. 

Picture: (Baaij M. (2013), “Management Consultancy”)

Now let’s get back to your friend with the house with the difficult neighbour. What if you would have this dilemma yourself, what would be your preferred way to receive help? 

Rogier ‘t Hooft is founder of Bolster, a boutique consultancy in the field of Leadership, Strategy and Change Management. Bolster works with international clients based on process-consultation. For more insights on the approach, go to https://teambolster.com/approach/