Process consulting is a different approach to working with organizations. Unlike traditional, product-driven consultants, process consulting is an iterative process that centers the needs and abilities of the client and co-creates transformational outcomes.
Process consulting integrates Dr. Edgar Schein’s work on humble inquiry, choosing to approach change and growth with curiosity and a willingness to learn together. Process consulting is the framework around which I do all my work, no matter the industry, denomination, or size of your organization.
As a process consultant, I don’t arrive with answers and I don’t know how to solve every problem that you face. I do arrive with an understanding of how organizations change, how they thrive, and how we can learn the best way to meet your challenges.
If you are looking for a consultant to sell you a product, to tell you exactly what to do, or to produce a report that looks great on your shelf, I won’t be able to help you.
Working with me requires honesty, transparency, and openness to change. Together, we will learn about your organization’s social, relational, cultural, and psychological dynamics and how they can foster or restrict change and growth. Once we understand what your organization is capable of achieving, we will build the tools and processes to effect that change.
As an Advanced Process Consultant, I rely on the 12 Core Competencies of Process Consulting:
- Listening Actively and Comprehensively: Process consulting success requires being deeply attuned to client needs, which begins with giving a client your entire attention, mind and body. Comprehensive listening is aware of not just what is said, but also what is left unsaid.
- Listening Conceptually and Contextually: Drawing on comprehensive listening, the process consultant also listens for the ideas and visions of the client, those things that they may not describe, but deeply desire. Contextually listening requires understanding a client’s unique location and challenges, and listening through the framework in which they exist.
- Listening Architecturally: A client will not go where they don’t want to go, so the process consultant must listen for limits, challenges, and restrictions on action the client has established. The outcome of our work will be limited by the client’s willingness to act, so successful design must eliminate that which they are unwilling to do.
- Listening Adaptively: While clients have natural limits to the work they will do, learning can diffuse some resistance, especially to adaptive challenges. Listening adaptively enables the process consultant to identify the required learnings to improve client success.
- Client Centered Helping: Productized solutions center the consultant and require forcing the client to fit into the product, often skipping important steps and learnings along the way. By centering the client, process consulting ensures the learning and solutions required radiate from the client’s current location.
- Client-Owned and Inspired Helping: Forcing clients to accept a process built by someone else all but ensures failure, because adaptive work is hard, long-term, and requires deep commitment. The process consultant exists to help the client find their solution, not to substitute our own.
- Client Specific Helping: Process consulting doesn’t use cookie cutters. We listen to, and with, our clients and the processes and solutions arise from their needs, not our templates.
- Client Success: You cannot be successful with someone else’s process. A client’s success emerges from a client-centered process that the client builds, owns, and experiences.
- Learning in Partnership: Learning happens most effectively when experienced in community. The impact of learning increases exponentially when other voices and experiences are introduced into the learning process.
- Learning Toward Wisdom: Knowledge is accumulated during the learning process, but for it to endure and change systems, it must be integrated into the systems and the very foundation of an organization.
- Learning to Exchange: Learning is not an end unto itself. The highest calling of a knowledgeable person is to share their knowledge to the improvement of society as a whole.
- Learning Towards Posterity: Not all knowledge must be preserved for eternity; some is useful only at a certain time, or only in a certain context. We must separate useful knowledge for fluff and record it as wisdom, then improve and refine some wisdom into posterity. This creates a benefit for future generations, just as the farmer separates wheat from chaff, then refines the best plants from each crop for future years.
Teaching: Teaching and process consulting, on the surface, appear to be conflicting actions. A teaching model implies that a teacher is a reservoir of knowledge and their role is to impart their knowledge on an audience. That is not the role of a process consultant, so I try to spend as little time teaching as possible. However, successful change and growth requires sharing a basic understanding of the tools, systems, and processes at work in your organization. Teaching and learning happen bi-directionally, as the consultant and organization work together to understand their relationship and the potential future.
Developing: Organizational Change is frequently adaptive work, that is, it requires tools and knowledge that does not exist and must be created to address the needed change. (For more information on adaptive vs. technical challenges, I recommend this HBR article as a primer.) The essential role of the process consultant is to work with an organization to develop the tools, leaders, and contributors necessary to realize the needed change.
Building: The work of process consulting continues beyond the development of contributors, systems, tools, and leaders. The goal of my organizational change work is to create organizations that serve their members and community, that are just, transparent, and effective. Developing the tools and individuals to create those organizations is the preparation phase, much like a builder prepares a lot for a new house. The intricate work happens now, shaping a space where those people and tools can come together to re-build an organization that is more aligned with it’s people and their needs.
Coaching: Coaching in the ongoing support that a process consultant provides to an organization and it’s people. Organizations are constantly for a variety of reasons. Engaging in a deliberate coaching regime helps the organization stay committed and focused, even as staff and missions change and evolve.