Process Consulting in Action

Using Schein’s process consulting philosophy and Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting model, my team and I helped the School of Business’ Office of Student and Alumni Engagement discover ways to improve their communication strategy with student organizations. Our goal was to gather data from organization members and faculty advisors, which included their process improvement ideas. We provided valuable feedback to our clients that targeted the original problem brought to us: a better way to advertise events and increase attendance rates from the business and surrounding VCU community. I think we met our goal as consultants because we provided our client with the tools and data necessary to put in place a viable solution for their department.

In early October, my team met with our clients to assess the situation and where we could be of help. Within the first five minutes of our active inquiry, Director, Doug Knapp and Assistant Director, Claire Calise, listed multiple problems in their office such as uncertainty about what student organization events take place, ways to better advertise these events, and ways to improve collaboration with other business units. I left the contract meeting with my head spinning about where our team needed to start. I, also, instinctively went into “solution-mode” wanting to solve each problem for them. Since I am close colleagues with Doug and Claire, my initial desire was to have a pre-packaged solution for them in order to quickly alleviate their problems. My team members were crucial throughout this process in helping me view consulting from more realistic and authentic perspective.

Immediately following the contract meeting, my team members decided to have a debrief meeting in order to make sense of the real problem. In our discussion, we were able to see clearly that before even looking at how best to publicize student organization events, we need to first understand how best to capture that data. I left our debrief meeting with a new awareness about the power of collaboration.  As much as I gravitated toward the doctor-patient relationship, my team kept me focused on on my role as process consultant (Schein, 1999, pg. 11). We purposely established a helping relationship designed to increase our clients’ own ability to develop and implement a sustainable action plan (Block, 2011, pg. 27). We were careful never to choose the best method for them. Our product was in the form of student data, which better informed our clients of effective communication strategies students were willing to use.

As their consultant, I did not interpret the survey data for them. To our clients’ credit, both Doug and Claire “owned” the problem and the solution (Schein, 1999, pg. 20). They never asked us to pick out the solution or implement their chosen communication method as a next step. Our group did a fantastic job of actively listening, facilitating the discussion, and helping them stay on target in the feedback meeting. Schein (1999) writes, “Only clients know what will ultimately work in their organizations. Consultants cannot…learn enough about the culture of an organization to suggest reliable new courses of action” (pg. 18). The decision ultimately remains with the clients. Our job was to “constructively intervene” so our clients were able to improve their organization on their own (Schein, 1999, pg. 18). In this way, our team established a helping relationship with our clients built on trust, collaboration, and respect. We created conditions under which learning and change are likely to happen down the road (Block, 2011, pg. 300). Our clients agreed to follow up with us six months after implementation as part of our original contract, which I think is a testament to the positive experience had by both parties.