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Industry Leader Interview Series – Allan Gatenby
September 23, 2013 · by James Carolin | Comments to this post

Allan Gatenby

Director of Programs, Association of Career Professionals International (ACPI) Australia

JC: What is your definition of a consultant?

AG: A consultant for me would be someone with particular expertise, technical skills if you like – a specialist in a chosen area.  So we consult as a professional, we consult with the specialists in our field, so a business consultant would be someone who specialises in business development and growth, a career consultant would be someone who has technical expertise and specialist knowledge in career development practice.

JC: How do you fit into the consulting industry?

AG: I fit in in two ways, I came out of education where I was an education consultant. I still practice as an education consultant. I provide particular expertise to the education sector in teaching, pastoral care or student wellbeing, in educational leadership and school management and development.  I also have technical expertise and specialities in career development practice so I am engaged as a consultant particularly to organisations who want to look at talent management, performance management, but also for individuals who want to make career transition. If they come out of the business sector they tend to see me as a career consultant: that is, a specialist they are coming to for advice, that is often seen as a career coach or sometimes as a career advisor so those terms really reflect the sector that the potential client comes from.  Language reflects their experience and how they view the world how they view me as a consultant depends on the sector they are coming from.

JC: What attracted you to consulting?

AG: I guess I have a passion around enabling people, to make a difference in their own life whether that is organisational, professional or personal. My approach to consultancy is around enabling and empowering so I’m not an expert that comes in and directs clients but a person with expertise not only in the technical aspects of the area of consultancy but in the process of enabling people to take greater challenges around life and have greater impact, shape their future

JC: How long have you been a consultant?

AG: I started in educational consultancy in 1980 and I had seven years as a specialist consultant working across different educational sectors followed by 20 years of school Principalship, which is largely consulting.   Since 2007 I have been in private practice as a change facilitator or a change consultant at individual and organisation level.

JC: What is the value that consultants add in your association/profession?

AG: I think consultants, in general bring value to a situation because when you are in the problem, you are part of the problem; you don’t always see the problem with objective eyes as someone sitting beside you. The real value of being a consultant is that you become a partner in a journey. A  partner with the advantage of objectivity and distance. There is not the same level of emotional attachment to the problem. There is not the same fogginess around the goal and so on. So for me it’s the partnership to bring drive to the organisation that the consultant can bring.

JC: So there are two things there: one is objectivity and the other is driving the process forward?  Obviously they have the expertise but the value that the consultant brings by virtue of being an expert to the client is that objective of being able to see things from a different perspective and being able to drive the process forward?

AG: Yes and I think for me drive is based on process skills. Yes there might be specialist knowledge but its really the process skills that will enable a person to be able to keep control of their organisation and control of that change process and therefore be able to more effectively lead it.

JG: What are the characteristics of successful consultants in your opinion?

AG: Should be very high on listening and synthesizing skills.  Synthesizing is a skill we haven’t taught well and it is the art of taking very different points of view and synthesizing it into an action.  Our most effective leaders are people who do that so it might be centred around vision so its having clear vision and getting stakeholder engagement through listening and then feeding back in such a way as the stakeholder can hear and see their contribution so you are building engagement. Our most successful consultants are those that can engage through that.  It’s a slightly different package of communication and negotiation skills.  We have tended to teach/develop listening skills around a management model where you listen and then you tell.  I think Steven Covey’s 7 habits are really a great psychological framework for effective leadership. 2 habits in particular are relevant here – “starting with endpoints in mind and  first seek to understand then to be understood – all those habits sit there very nicely as a philosophical framework as well as a psychological framework. I think the work of William Glasser and the Glasser Institute has a lot to offer in terms of making sure that as a consultant that the responsibility stays where the responsibility should be -  with your client, the organisation and leaders with whom you are consulting..  Too easily in our counselling approaches of the past is that we actually unconsciously work towards dependency. In other words the organisation becomes dependent on the consultant who becomes a surrogate leader. This is not partnership – that is something quite different. So I think that our best consultants have a clear idea of their philosophy, they operate with alignment between their psychology and philosophy. Psychological processes support their philosophy. Their philosophy is around empowerment so the practice that they are engaged in is around liberation rather than dependency.  I’ve talked a little bit in circles there but if we start with that the most effective Consultants have clarity around their philosophy, have a psychology based on that and Covey and Glasser are good examples of empowerment, psychology and practice.

JC: What stops consultants from adding value in your association/profession?

AG: I guess resource adequacy on behalf of the consultant.  I think that there are many people in consultancy who have come there because of their technical knowledge and not necessarily solid in process knowledge.  I also think that many of my colleagues are limited in their understanding of change and change processes and how to manage the stress of change.  So I still see a lot of consultants going in and telling, and directing rather than facilitating and leading and working collaboratively.  Leadership and our understanding of leadership has changed significantly in the last three to five years. I think that one of the limiting factors for consultants is the consultant keeping up with the change within their speciality and within their profession.  So that would be one limiting factor and that would centre around the consultant.  The other limiting factor I think is that from my experience there is confusion in the business world if you like about what a consultant is and does. So we have for most people the most obvious metaphor, the most obvious experience of a consultant might be in a health model.  You go to a consultant or a specialist to get a special diagnosis and higher level treatment and that doesn’t always neatly transcribe over to the business world so its that confusion I think that needs to be negotiated and I think you know that’s where we still have the number of business consultants who are coming out of a managerial level in experience rather than a leadership model in experience.

JC: Do you mind unpacking the difference between those?

AG: A management model is about efficiency and getting the job done and maintaining the status quo.  A leader is more focused on change in getting greater efficiency and drive through enabling the organisation to change reflecting the changing market space in which they are operating so leadership skills are more about facilitating change collaboration and so on, management is more about directive, maintaining the status quo. There is a bit  of tension between these two roles.  In organisations generally business leaders are promoted on their managerial skill not necessarily their leadership skill so when a leader manager or a manager leader sits down with a consultant there is a certain expectation  that the consultant is going to tell them what to do rather than to explore what can be done and to explore the best ways to get sustainable change within the organisation

JC: So just to summarise the confusion that you see out there is that clients expect consultants to help them manage better when in reality consultants should be helping them lead better?

AG: In my opinion, yes and that’s very clear in terms of career consulting, because at the end of the day the consultant isn’t in the interview space they can only coach if you like towards enabling the individual being able to perform and that’s the same in business consulting.  The consultant isn’t going to be in the boardroom or MD office every day the MD has to be there and so for me that’s the push.  The other push in terms of consulting is that increasingly we are working a global market so no longer can businesses leaders afford to be parochial. Our market is going to be greatly influenced by and we should have an impact on global perspectives.  So as business leaders we need to embrace that change and global market and the impact of things like technology, gender, culture on an organisations ability to have a vital and sustainable future.

JC: What do some consultants do to give the profession a bad name?

I think firstly I think some of our colleagues have worked to perpetuate the specialist go in and tell, this is what you should do.  This is a quick fix.  In my experience there is no quick fix.  What we really need to be doing as a consultancy profession is to build up the idea that the consultant is interested in short term gain sure but for long term sustainable practice so its about embracing business consultancy. Maybe we should be using the term business leadership development or something like that.  Too often we suffer because you bring them in for a quick fix and diagnosis and my experience is unless that change is supported over time then you are maximising the chance of failure rather than success.  So the quick fix mentality, the do it yourself mentality there is a lot of marketing out there around do it yourself, there is a lot online templates and information and go manage it yourself.  You only have to listen to the ABC on a Saturday morning to hear the goofs. People get into a do it yourself program and realise it doesn’t work and they don’t know how to work through the opportunities that have been created by that. So as a profession I would like to see us positioning ourselves on longer-term processes more clearly focusing on leadership and sustainable and viable practice. And then develop the process facility in order to support that without it being a drain on the organisation

AG: If you could fix anything about consulting what would it be?

Professional standards and training and development.  As a professional group we should be looking at our own standard and how we raise that and I think its only now that we are starting to see business consultancy training starting to happen up until now it has been run on MBAs which are very much financially and numbers based.  And now we have an opportunity to develop process and take more holistic view of change, leadership and business development.

JC: How would you fix it?

AG: There needs to be appropriate training and development opportunities for business consultants.  And it needs to come at a whole lot of different levels.  Not necessary qualifications though I think qualifications are a great goal.  In career development practice for example we are looking at for example yes qualifications but we also need professional accreditation and we need some way to ensure that to the consumer – business leaders – that that accreditation actually means something.  So in career development practice we are developing three levels of professional standing.  Qualification, accreditation, certification and I think that’s a good model for business consultancy. At the moment what does a business consultant hang their shingle upon? It would largely be people coming out of say some aspect of HR. So maybe their HR qualification.  Or maybe their MBA, which would be, based largely in finance or accountancy.  Few of our business consultants will come from a coaching, learning and development background and I think that’s what we need – to push that aspect a little bit 

JC: Thanks for your time!

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