Can Uncomfortable Lead to Action?

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Are you an internal consultant?   We often ask our Strategic Sourcing, Procurement, Supply Chain, Finance, IT, HR, etc. clients this question and are often met with blank stares.  BUT, if you are working as a professional in any shared service function where you are required to meets the needs of other functions within your organization, then the answer is YES!   You may not have thought of your role in this context but you are indeed a consultant.  Here are some of the attributes of a consultant:

  • Conducts needs assessment
  • Sells solutions
  • Pro-actively communicates
  • Manages change
  • Intelligent investigation
  • “Out of box” thinking
  • New ideas / methodology for old problems
  • Often Impacts without actually doing
  • Analytical thinking
  • Comprehensive diagnosis

If these attributes do not sound like your current role or behaviors, they should.  The expectations of our business partners are increasing and they are looking for more than reports; they want us to use our functional expertise to help drive real Value for the business.  In my opinion the most important attribute of a consultant is to sell solutions to our “client” (business partner) in a way that drives them to ACTION.  Unless we can get our client to do something different (make a change) based on our recommendations then all we have done is incurred cost (time spent on research, discussion, analysis, etc.) with no return.

How can we persuade our client to ACT?  I read an interesting article in HBR last week, “Good Presentations Need to Make People Uncomfortable” where Josh Bersin discusses the art of creating a strong presentation.    While we have many communication vehicles at our disposal, the presentation (not death by PowerPoint 🙂 ) is still the most effective – if done well.  “A good one takes many hours to build: It requires research and clarity of thinking, and great care must be given to word choice, image selection, and flow.”  A good presentation “enables us to make a compelling, persuasive argument – without overwhelming people with disjointed messages or a firehose of information.”  I also find that a good presentation can be short and to the point, almost seeming effortless in preparation when instead it took many, many hours for it to look that way.

Mr. Bersin also discusses the concept of cognitive dissonance –defined in Wikipdeia as “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs or is confronted by new information that conflicts with an existing belief.”  According to Bersin “if you want a group of people to adopt your point of view, start by describing some difficult or painful issue they’re faced with – it could be an issue they did not know they had OR they recognize as on ongoing challenge.  Either way, you’re forcing them to hold two contradictory things in their minds at once: either what they already believe and what you’re telling them or what they know and how they behave.  That dissonance ratchets up their discomfort, which makes them want to fix it.”  After setting up the problem, you as the consultant can propose solutions that will help eliminate the discomfort.  

The formula for a good presentation is simple – tell a story!  Set up the problem or opportunity (objective), suggest one or more solutions (hypotheses), provide information (data) that will help to support your solutions, provide recommendations (analysis) and make a compelling argument to move your client to ACTION (persuade).  A compelling story along with a well-articulated argument is more important than beautiful pictures and fancy animation.  Having the ability to develop and deliver a strong presentation can set you apart professionally and allow you to be that trusted advisor that our business partners are looking for.  Sprinkle in a little discomfort and move your entire organization to action!

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation….

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Anne has been leading consulting and financial management organizations for over 25 years. She has extensive expertise in Strategic Sourcing, change management, contracting & contract management (both the buy side and sell side) organizational design and supply chain management. Anne has a passion for collaborating and educating her clients while helping them to uncover hidden value in their organizations. In addition, Anne has been named by Supply & Demand Chain Executive as a “Top 100 Provider Pro to Know” every year since 2007 and a 2013 Top Female Supply Chain executive.

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