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The Tao of Tsau – Basic Consulting Skills

Posted in The Tao of Tsau by Pam on the May 24th, 2012

I know very few people who can deliver a presentation lasting 45 minutes with only a single slide. In spite of all the rules of thumb that suggest maybe 15 slides for 45 minutes, many speakers try to cram their entire life’s story into their power point presentations. Yet, Yung could use a single slide as a road map and hold the audience for the entire time.

However, when I first approached Yung in 1990 to do a presentation for a staff gathering on “Basic Consulting Skills”, he protested that he had nothing to say.  In those days of overhead projectors and transparencies, I prevailed on him to take up the challenge. Over the period of a couple weeks, we sketched on paper a presentation that started off as more than 10 transparencies.  As the presentation approached, we condensed the material first to seven and then to five and what I thought might be the bare minimum at three slides.  In the last hour, Yung came running up to me and said that there were too many slides.  He wanted one and only one transparency.

Remember we started with at least 10 transparencies.  Now in the 11th hour, he wanted one.  I chewed my marker and finally came up with a compromise that summarized the three slides we had left.  I took my solution to Yung and he vigorously agreed with the approach.

Over the next hour, I was fascinated as Yung proceeded to introduce the world of consulting through three basic imperative statements: Know the Business. Understand the Environment. Deliver.

Consultants face a unique challenge.  Not only must they understand how a consulting company makes money, they must also understand how their client companies make money.  Knowing the business gives the consultant expert power within their organizations.  The best consultants know more about how their client companies make their money than many of the client’s own employees.  This is critical for continuing placement which is a key to the consulting company making money.

Consultants must walk into a work environment and culture and catch on immediately.  They must discern how the client makes decisions, learn the special language and acronyms of that business, as well as be able to get along with a new group of people every six months to a year.  Consultants are constantly testing the boundaries of their new environments.  Much as ancient maps had dragons defining the unknowns, consultants have to construct their own charts of the environment and be constantly aware of the old seafaring adage, “Thar be dragons.”

Finally, all the expertise in the world will not help if there is no delivery.  If the milestones are not made, then all the knowledge and political skill in the universe cannot save the engagement.  Consultants must constantly focus on producing value — on the actual delivery with budget and either early or on time.  The product must be of the highest quality without giving the impression of goldplating.

While this succinct advice was first delivered to consultants, everyone in the business world can take heed.  A career advances and becomes richer by knowing the business, learning and relearning the environment, and by delivering quality, timely value.

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