How could we consultants support our clients in this post-pandemic times?

13/01/2022 11:51 am

 Translated into English by Fabian Szulanski and Georgina Potter 

At the beginning of May of this unique year of 2020, I, along with two of my colleagues and best friends, Hector Fainstein and Michael Henric-Coll, started a conversation in the LinkedIn Group – Leadership, theories and research about an interesting challenge: 

Given this situation of volatility and uncertainty, and in the face of so much complexity and ambiguity that inhibits the foresight of the post-pandemic future, how can we consultants support our clients to build new experiences for their clients, as well as to develop new agreements with workers, suppliers and other stakeholders? 

Professionals, colleagues and friends from Argentina, Spain, France, Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico participated in this conversation; a series of concepts, ideas and opinions that I think are worth sharing, were originated.  Following is a synthesis of what was generated in this forum’s discussion. At the end of this article, I share my final reflections. 

Answers to the specific challenge
  • Our challenge is to reinvent ourselves as professional consultants / coaches / trainers. Today more than ever, our focus should be on emotion and its effects, on empathy, on collaborative work and networking, as well as on resilience, creativity and flexibility.
  • We, consultants, should change our approach due to the inefficacy of today prevailing mindsets; we will have to make sense of the business landscape and ecosystem with a more powerful and adequate mindset, getting rid of all vestiges of planning, ‘smelling’ the complexity, and moving forward with baby steps, sensing and feeling our way as we advance.
  • We should first understand how the economy behaves, in order to be in the position of helping our clients to define appropriate strategies for the specific economic sector targeted by their companies.
  • Given that it will be a totally new scenario for everyone, we must recognize that we do not have sufficient knowledge to help us in the design and execution of solutions. Our priority should be to listen to our clients. Only after deep and empathetic listening, we would be ready to offer our sincere feedback to them. These attributes -empathy and radical honesty- could possibly be some of the most disruptive elements that will be needed in order to co-develop solutions with our clients.
  • Possibly, some of our clients are still in their comfort zone thinking that they will go back ‘to the old days’, shielded by more than a century of Taylorian practices. Consultants should enable a change of awareness in clients in order to avoid threats and highlight opportunities.
  • There are several evolutionary, distinct phases for the client that can be pointed out: It is evident that at the beginning, everything is about survival. Later, when reaching enough stability, the client will need to learn how to cope with uncertainty from many perspectives, as well as to how to recover their strength and resilience. It is at this stage that the consultant will wear the coach hat for helping with strategic decision making. Subsequently, a ‘sniffing’ exploratory stage will follow, in which the consultant switches hats again, to that of being an organizational transformation catalyst. At this moment the consultant will be fulfilling the facilitator role in its broadest sense.

Competencies that the ‘post-pandemic’ consultant must master:
  • High degree of creativity, and the ability to find different solutions for different problems.
  • High degree of resilience.
  • Flexibility: the willingness to modify past processes and habits.
  • An intense capacity for empathy and a high ability to focus on emotions.
  • An incredibly open mind, aiming to be a lifelong learner.
  • Creative Thinking to deal with unprecedented situations.

Lucky thoughts
Throughout the conversation, many relevant and significant phrases and thoughts emerged that are worth reposting in this section. Enjoy! 

  • I think the keyword to answer almost all the questions asked is: FEAR.
  • We must bet on innovation in many aspects.
  • Different is not a bad word.
  • The ‘how’ will depend on the ‘when’.
  • Most organizations do business linearly, while the environment evolves exponentially, and even in a disruptive fashion (the appearance of COVID-19, its contagion rate and effects, is a good example).
  • “Irrationality is when a person tries to obtain different results, doing the same thing”.
  • All actions will be in the short term due to systemic instability.
  • Opportunities come disguised as crises or challenges.
  • What is key, is the ability of being an ambidextrous organization, ready to optimize and innovate, or exploit and explore.
  • As long as there is life, a fresh mind, time, attention and substantial relationships, we can always reinvent ourselves and evolve. The challenge is not related to money.
  • We will not discover new territories using old maps.
  • We will have to “evangelize”, without being the prophets of disaster. What a task!
  • Putting a hat on when you are upside down will require incredibly special skills.
  • Why is it that life is so difficult?
  • Who is going to advise the advisors? Who is going to help us unlearn what we know and adopt new ideas?

 Conclusions? No. Reflections!  I have had the opportunity to engage in a discussion with various colleagues around the concepts and ideas of this article, which has allowed me to summarize some reflections that in no way are intended to be conclusions, much less absolute truths. 
  • Actually, we are not going to enter a ‘post-Covid’ stage as soon as our lockdown ends, but much later, when we will have learned how to coexist with that virus. In the meantime, we will be in a long ‘in between-Covid’ phase, that will affect our way of living, entertaining, traveling and networking outside of our current circles. Will the localisms be exacerbated?
  • The impact that comes from this health-related disruption will be uneven, since it will affect different countries, cities and regions in different ways. It will also affect each industry according to the company’s size, and its momentum before the pandemic. Therefore, it is not appropriate to talk now about a ‘new normality’, since it will not exist as such, but rather, we will experience one or many of several different scenarios. This new challenge will require highly proficient and resilient consultants (and clients).
  • We and our clients will have to focus, first, on a ‘soft landing’ in terms of both economic and mental health, and then – (when?) – we will have to think again about growth, about development of new markets and new products. The thought about how to evolve in a decreasing global business activity might also come into play.
  • The need for advice to the client and its workers will no longer be purely economic; psychological and emotional needs will become prevalent.
  • The advisor will become, rather than a consultant, a catalyst whose purpose will be to stimulate and accelerate transformation, teamwork and network thinking.
  • Apparently, remote collaboration is here to stay, but it could be a huge mistake transferring the F2F way of working to remote, as that would be like reviving Taylor 164 years later.
  • In the past Science was the God; today, it is Technology.
  • Should we consultants shift our advising approach to change management, to a process of symbiosis in which we help each other evolving along the VUCA pathway? Should we learn to think together (co-think?) and help each other to unlearn?
  • After the black plague in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance rose. May that be an optimistic signal for our postCovid-19?
Thanks I sincerely thank Héctor Fainstein, Michel Henric-Coll, Fabián Szulanski, Blanca Sánchez Rodríguez, Carolina Sciarrotta, Carlos Gutiérrez Navas, Miguel Ángel Abarca G., Manuel Ricardo Saenz Salcedo, Antonio Martínez Álvarez and José Luis Lorenzo Fernández, for having participated in the conversation that contributed to the development of this article.