An Accounting or Bookkeeping Consultant is Half Expert/Half Therapist
When I walked in the door of the client’s conference room, all eyes were on me. The accounting manager had assembled every member of the team, but I could tell by the looks on their faces that she had also read them the riot act. Uh oh, I thought, how am I going to build trust with these people so that they’ll give me the information I need without making them defensive? I don’t want them to think I’m trampling on their turf.
It was time to put on my therapist hat. As a business process and software consultant, my role is twofold: to be very good at what I do, and to be a therapist for the clients. There’s no rulebook with step-by-step instructions as to “why” this is required; it’s something I’ve picked up, and I know other consultants reading this know exactly what I’m talking about.
You see, by the time a company hires me (or any consultant), they are usually in a lot of pain, whether it is figurative – departmental squabbles and process inefficiencies – or literal, like financial troubles or IRS compliance, for example. To successfully help my clients reach a workable solution, I have to recognize the problem they are facing and the pain it causes them.
Step 1: Getting to the Root of the Problem
At the beginning of a project, I have to understand the issue, gain trust and reassure the client that there is a solution. I always start with the question, “what is going on?” Even if I’ve already gotten the lay of the land from the main contact, it is important to ask this question in front of the entire team so that everyone can answer.
It is here when I pull out four therapist tools:
- Listening. I want to hear the entire story from everyone who is willing to tell it. This will help me come up with the solutions I feel comfortable recommending.
- Evaluating. Recognizing team dynamics is crucial to designing the right solution.
- Being approachable. The know-it-all consultant is no fun to work with, so I stay friendly and open so that all team members feel they can talk to me.
- Being nonjudgmental. As soon as I say, “I can’t believe you’ve been doing things that way,” I’ve put the client on the defensive. I always try to remember that my clients are doing the best they can. I just have more information and tools available to me.
During this process, I try to validate as much as possible. I say things like, “I see why you’ve been frustrated.” This goes a long way towards gaining trust and ensuring they know I have their best interests at heart.
Phew! Sometimes, the process is exhausting. Putting on the therapist hat can be a bit of a stretch, but I remind myself it is the key to a successful project.
Step 2: Present the Solutions
The process for determining the right solution is 100% consultant, pulling from my experience, knowledge and creativity. My role as a consultant is to:
- Make an accurate diagnosis of the problems.
- Understand the goals and ensure the solution I create meets those goals.
- Be a catalyst for change.
- Provide resources in the form of information, training and software.
- Educate the team.
- Get the project done.
When presenting the solution, I also must play the role of the therapist. The client may still be feeling defensive that he needed help in the first place. The team dynamics are probably still an issue, so I have to determine the best way to negotiate that minefield.
I like sharing pertinent stories, especially when they are about my firm. If the client knows I’ve been in their shoes, they are more likely to let the embarrassment go and trust me.
Step 3: Wrap up
As the project progresses, we can generally roll up our sleeves and get to work. At this point, listening and remaining approachable are still very important, but for the most part, the client has come to terms with the fact that we were needed in the first place. After all, completing a successful project that meets their goals is everyone’s goal.
Every business’ problem is unique, or so the client wants to think. While corporate cultures and personalities differ, the issues companies face have a lot of overlap. There is no harm in feeding into their belief that they are unique; it will validate their feelings and offer them comfort.