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March 10, 2009
Your Duties as a Consultant
A colleague recently telephoned with a developing concern surrounding a consulting position she only just accepted. The client was facing possible restrictive challenges and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She was concerned her reputation could be jeopardized if unable to fulfill her duties – in the initial six-week time frame – a task she concluded would be nothing short of a miracle.
As it turns out, there was no clear definition of the job nor did she have accessibility to her boss (a situation that limits her access to technical -- and political -- elements related to the assignment). These are fundamental problems that will become the foundation for any future miscommunication. Fears of not being able to fulfill her consulting duties are the symptoms of an underlying problem; expectations imposed that she simply could never fulfill within the required time frame.
Effective consultants should not make any commitments before receiving a clear project description and certainly, they must avoid making any future work commitments. Without a clear definition of the job, a consultant is steering a ship in an ocean without a course. And, with limited or no access to a boss, then you have no map in which to guide you. The consultant is left derelict in a sea of uncertainty and inevitable disrepute.
According to Peter Block, the founder of two well-known training firms, consultants agree on the following from a client:
•   a clear job definition
•   access to the person who represents the project
•   access to the data
•   cooperation
•   commitment to the project
•   share the blame -- and the glory
•   to feel useful
•   no bias about the outcome
•   free to be open and give/get feedback
With a reputation at stake, any smart consultant in a similar situation, must still get the job done -- without complaining. Admitting that the project is “stuck” is indeed admirable, not to mention powerful. It is now essential that the consultant take control of the project: assign key players, document (in emails) those responsible as well as time frames and deliverables and then stay long enough to do the job.
The relationship between a consultant and a client is valuable. Although it may be symbiotic, it is more of a practical one. After all, you are involved in a threesome. Tarnishing any client relationship ultimately ruins your reputation with your consulting agent (assuming you have one, which most of you do as this is a job recruitment website).
Once you are hired to change or improve a situation, it is undeniably immensely rewarding to know you have made a difference. However, you never want this difference to be remembered as “infamous.”

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Stefan Pinto relies on his 12 years of experience and realistic judgment to design and construct usable websites. His corporate design solutions include intranets for Merck, Merrill Lynch and AT&T.  Recently he designed RandomSource.com an online office supply catalog and Upstage, a social networking site for actors. Stefan Pinto also writes a fitness and weight loss column and works as a television actor. Visit him at http://www.pintofactory.com.

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