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Managerial Consulting Skills reviewed

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Title: Managerial Consulting Skills: A Practical Guide – Second Edition
Author: Charles J Margerison
Publisher: Gower Publishing Ltd
ISBN: 0-566-08292-6
Format: Hardback book, 208 pages
Price: £50

The first edition of this book was published in 1988 and this edition has been updated and revised. Additionally, the 2001 version includes chapters on the way the web will influence consulting and the impact action learning will have on the change process.

There is an immediacy and directness about this book which makes it easy to read and enjoyable to think about. Firmly rooted on Margerison's own extensive consultancy experience and written in a down to earth, very practical style the book provides a wealth of ideas, information and advice on how to plan and carry out effective consultancy assignments or projects. In addition to his own experience, the author summarizes the basic ideas of other consultants who have published their work. Virtually everyone of the original 16 chapters contains such summaries.

Don't be deterred by the title of 'Managerial Consulting Skills'. The content is valid for anyone who needs to carry out the classic consultant role of someone, outside the mainstream, helping those within to find a solution. In addition to skills consultancy process and stages are clearly described and logically developed.

There are five parts to the book. Part 1 (Chapter 1 – 4 inclusive) deals with Purposes and Processes. For anyone who is beginning to become involved in consultancy work either within their own organization or as an outsider invited to become involved, this section gives a very interesting overview of the basic process and tasks of the consultant – be they internal or external.

Of particular interest are the 12 steps in consulting discussed in Chapter 2. The twelve steps are broken into three stages – Appraisal, Assessment and Application. From my own experience of consulting, this is the best and clearest statement of how to go about it that I have seen. Each chapter concludes with an exercise to help the reader extend and apply what they have read about.

Part 2 (Chapters 5 – 8 inclusive) deals with Personal and Interpersonal Skills. This part starts with conversation control, long an interest of Margerison, and proffers excellent advice on listening and following up clues and cues. The reader is asked to consider both problem-centred and solution-centred behaviour. Other areas well covered include opening doors, gaining permission, raising energy levels (yours and the clients) and establishing fora (forums) for sharing and comparing and covers briefly a Margerison and McCann 1995 Team Management Wheel. Again each chapter ends with an exercise.

Part 3 (Chapters 9 – 12 inclusive) deals with Principles, Plans and Models. Margerison describes four models of consultancy by analogy with four well-known professions – the doctor, the detective, the sales person and the travel agent. The descriptions are succinct but colourful, pros and cons are discussed and some warning about when to use/avoid given. The author personally prefers the travel agent approach which presumes the client is on a journey his own working model is DVM:

  • Destinations, where does the client want to go
  • Vehicles, what methods are available to get there
  • Maps, How can the client understand what has to be done en-route.

    If nothing else sticks in the reader’s mind the 'DVM' triad makes the book worthwhile.

    Part 4 (Chapters 13 – 16 inclusive) deal with Politics and Pressures. Reading this I wanted to say "… been there, seen it... etc." This part really is useful. It outlines possible pitfalls, emphasises the need to identify and consider stakeholders and advises on how to get to and/or involve the 'Make or break people'. Chapter 15, 'The actors and their scripts' was a particularly fascinating short read and offers much valuable advice about what’s going on in people’s minds and about their agendas. Chapter 16 is a down-to-earth review of issues – some within, and others outside the consultant's direct control which can affect the success or failure of consulting processes.

    Part 5 (The two new chapters 17 and 18). This looks at Action Learning in Business and How to Consult on the Web. Chapter 17 looks at how action learning can help business and suggests that it is the key to future professional managers. It is a way of working rather than just a skill. As such it has immense relevance to anyone acting in a consultancy capacity.

    The chapter on the web (No. 18) raises a number of pertinent issues. The web is breaking down traditional information barriers, revolutionising who talks to who and/or consulting, face-to-face contact remains important but much information collection and transfer can now be done via the web. The chapter offers some very practical advice on using the web and incorporating it into consultancy assignments.

    Overall this book remains not only a fascinating read but also a very powerful collection of advice on how to consult effectively. It will be valuable for anyone involved in consulting, whether experienced or inexperienced, it certainly showed up several areas for me (after 20+ years of practical experience), where I need to re-look at how I do things.

    Even people who would not ordinarily think of themselves as 'consultants' i.e. managers, trainers, project managers within organizations would benefit substantially from the book’s advice in terms of such issues as planning and approaching tasks, influencing and working with people, identifying necessary outputs and how to get there.

    A very useful book. The style is involving and easy to read and the advice practical and usable.


    Reviewed by Diane Bailey, <a href="http://www.dba.co.uk
    ">DBA Training Design Consultancy

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