This is the theoretical framework for Shaw Consulting early Stages
Thank you for considering our services for consultation. I want to take a few minutes and explain our processes as well as methods and models that will be utilized that are grounded in empirical research as excellent tools to use within our management consulting practice. We will begin with a few generalizations about the methods and models that will be utilized during the consulting process. It is extremely important that if there are any questions concerning these models that they are asked and not just assumed. This consulting process is collaboration between client and consultant and trust is going to be the main factor in the success of this endeavor between both the client and the consultant.
Understanding consulting and methodology like Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Action Research (AR) require a basic understanding of how consultants will use these tools in Process Consulting interventions. To take it a step further, we will help establish as well as provide empirical and seminal research that involves AI, AR, and PC. In addition to basic understanding of these methodologies, examples will be given to help show the application within the process of consulting. This proposal will cover these areas as they pertain to the management consulting practice in which you have requested.
There are many different forms of consultation that are a readily available. Most of these types can be found in the local yellow pages or on a search for the keyword consultants within a search engine. Examples of different types of consultation include, market consultation, IT consultation, and research consultation to name a few. Many of these consulting firms might have a one size fits all client approach as their methodology and model, or they might just take the problem as provided by the client and come up with a solution. These prescriptive measures might work in a limited situation but are not the most effective in consulting with clients looking for long term success and change. According to Schein (1997) process consulting is not a one size fits all field and that a consultant cannot just prescribe a solution to client issues without the client being involved. There needs be certain principles that are followed and a structure that is embedded to help guide the consultation process. I likened this example to choosing your own adventure book where the client and consultant work together to find the right path and develop a solution that meets the needs of the organization. In addition to working together and collaborating as a unit, Backlund and Werr (2008) explored consultant speak, jargon and communication. During this time of working together can help bridge the communication gap between consultant and client if one exists. In essence, the curse of knowledge can play an important role in the relationship of client and consultant and it is the consultant’s responsibility to make sure the client understands everything about the process.
Schein (1997) presents his eight principles of process consulting and how they affect the consultant and the client. These principles are taken seriously and can be considered a code to conduct business. These principles are:
- Always Be Helpful
- Always Deal with Reality
- Access Your Ignorance
- Everything you do is an Intervention
- The client own the Problem and the Solution
- Go with the Flow, but Seize Target Opportunities
- Be Prepared to be Surprised, and Learn from them
- Share the “Problem”
In this informational proposal, the first principle will address in more detail. Keep in mind that all of these principles are important in how they will relate to the process consultation that will receive. It is in this consultants opinion that the first principle the key. The first principle, always be helpful, states the position of the consultation. For example, if our firm deployed a one size fits all solution, this particular solution would not be helpful to an organization in which it did not fit? In addition, how would the consultant know if the solution was a fit without talking to the client and understanding their concerns and goals? This means listening to the client and Schein (1997) said it best that a consultant must be willing to do less if that will help the client and process more.
As a consultant, the goal is to work with the client and teach the client the process of how to gain a solution instead of just completing the process and giving the solution. As we begin to look at the two different methodologies that could be deployed during the consultation process, please be aware of the principles in action as stated above and how that framework can assist your organization.
The first methodology that will be explored will be Action Research. According to Akdere (2003), AR is considered both a process and a model that can be used in consulting. AR has been a method of research and problem solving that dates back to WWII, in which studies were conducted on prison camps survivor’s and its effects, and it aims to improve a given situation through research and provide knowledge through organizational learning. Now, unlike traditional consulting methods that might interview the client, find a problem and solve the problem, AR, according to Naslund, Olsson, and Karlsson (2006), is a collaborative and participatory practice that is used in process consulting. The term collaborative, in relation to consulting, means that the client and the consultant will work together to define the issues within the organization, while working together to develop a solution, process, or policy that meets the goals and objectives of the organization. Participatory means that the client is involved in the process and provides feedback and input to help with the process defined by the consultant and client. In essence, a prescriptive method of consulting in which the client tells the consultant the problem and the consultant fixes problem is not effective means of working toward a common solution.
Action Research is an iterative process that was explored by Neubert (2003). In this study, action research was found to have many different cycles of consulting and can last from one to two cycles to as many as 100 cycles depending on the end goals as dictated by the partnership between consulting and client. One of the greatest attributes of AR is the learning process. This process of AR can lead to the gathering of information that is specific in nature for that current study. Whether or not the study was a success, organizational learning took place and the researcher reflected on what went wrong and what went right. If more information was needed, a new cycle was created. Below you will find the model for AR and how the cycle is conducted.
Let us look at an example of what AR might look like in simple terms.
Planning: In the study, by Nadlund, Aolsson, Karlsson (2006), the first step for action research was to evaluate and understand the issues that might need to be addressed. The researchers in this study conducted a SWOT analysis of the organization and certain items where identified. How do consultants and researchers define cycles? If five items where identified within the SWOT, there could be five or more cycles conducted but within one of these action items that has been identified. In addition, there could be countless cycles depending on the success and failures of any of the other cycles.
Action and Collect: These two steps can be considered the research aspect of the consultation. In some circles it might be called measurable action but whatever it is called and in whatever consulting firms it is used, this stage is when the consultant begins their data collection either through qualitative research or quantitative research. After a thorough planning phase with the client and a complete understanding of the objectives of the study, the consultant will use tools to investigate the problem. Example of tools might be assessments, inventories, questionnaires, and surveys to name a few. For example, if a school is having parking issues, they might place a sign out in front that states “no parking”. The consultant will monitor the behavior of the signage to see if the parking problem has changed. The consultant might have the staff complete a survey to see how they feel about this particular sign and placement. The client and the consultant would get together once the data has been collected and evaluate the information taking note of what worked, what did not work, and any current trends that might be appearing. In essence, there could be many more problems that have surfaced from that initial survey to warrant additional research or additional cycles.
Reflection: This stage of the process is extremely underused but absolutely needed in the AR process. In the example above, if the parking problem was not resolved by a sign, the consultant and client must reflect on what worked and what did not work. De Guerre, Segulin, Pace, and Burke (2013) explored AR through a different methodology of consulting called I.D.E.A. which stands for integrating, innovation, design, engagement, and action and built into their action phase is a reflection component that they described as deep thinking. Though AR can be perceived through many different lenses, the outcome is the same. If the outcome was not a success, this would be a learning situation for the client. This general knowledge found can be used as organizational learning so that future failures can be avoided. Naslund, Olsson, and Karlson (2006) refer to this as what and know knowledge. Coghlan and Jacaobs (2005) based on the findings of AR, reeducation might need to take place in which, patterns of thinking would need to be unlearned and replaces with established norms and actions. For organizational learning to take place, reeducation will also need to take place to help the organization understand and process the change. Lastly, there are many modalities that AR can take place in, for example, search conference, workshops, seminars so the traditional years of consultation are not always necessary but these different types of modalities need to be discussed with the consultant and the client for best practices.
Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a model based on assumptions of asking questions that lead us to a particular answer. For example, Browing (2014) uses the questions, “What is the Problem?” Lilja and Richardsson (2012) state that AI can be thought of as an organizational change process that looks at positives within the organization instead of the problems. McCormack (2012) noted that in his research of American Congregations that AI is a more positive way of viewing and approaching social and organizational situations. By understanding the existing positive resources and practices, AI can be viewed as positive by the organization and can be viewed as a means of helping the organization build toward the future. As a consultant, this is a new way of thinking or even a paradigm shift in traditional prescriptive consulting whereas the consult would be given a problem and tasked to solve it. With AI, the consultant and client are tasks with making what works even better for the organization. Some examples of industries using AI include social work, health care, and general organizational change management. McCormack (2012) continues to state that AI emphasis story telling, visions and serving the highest good.
This model is often called the 4D’s for its four phases. These phases are Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny. Lilja and Richardsson (2012) discussed the 4D’s:
Discovery- What has been working well in the past and the present?
Dream– Envision what it might be like, the best of what is
Design– Begin to build those dreams out strategically
Destiny– Begin to implement the desired design and changes
AI has a lot to offer concerning consulting and bringing value to an organization. Though is must be noted that the AI model is not going to be a fit for all clients as some simply are not ready to apply this method to their organization. In this case, a different methodology and model will be discussed with the client and consultant. AI, according to Browning (2014) is not to be used to fill gaps or create new objectives; it is about making personal commitments to take action consistent with the design outlined. In essence, according to Coghlan and Jacobs (2005) it is moving people from patterns of thinking and acting within an organization to a more defined pattern of thinking that fits the organization now and in the future.
As it can be noted in this proposal, the framework for consulting can be an ever changing dynamic with many different models and tools that can be implemented. Some tools and models might be better than others but the information provided and through process consulting, action research, and appreciative inquiry this framework described in detail is an excellent starting point for any management consulting needs. The goal of this consultation is to work together with the client and define the problems and outcomes that are needed for the organization. The consultant is not a problem solver and defers that responsibility to the client, but is more of a tool that is used to help with organizational concerns like change or process implementation. Unlike the traditional prescriptive method of consulting that can be summed up in three steps- entry/action/exits, the process consulting model keeps the client engaged through the process and provides information upon request. The use of action research can be a great method to use and it is the goal of the consultant to help the client understand the importance of AR as well as AI and how to deploy these processes on their own to continue the change process. There is one thing for certain that change is going to happen and to sum it up Coghlan and Jacobs (2005) stated that it is not enough to try to explain things, one need to try to change them and also understand the process. That is what our consulting firm can bring to your organization.
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