Blog April 24, 2024

Navigating Shades of Grey – Managing the Consultant-Client Relationship 

By Stephan Lauzon

April 24th | 2 min read

Making Sense of the Consultant-Client Relationship 

In my previous post, I talked about the key questions for evaluating client-consultant relationships. Today, let’s go deeper into one of the key considerations, looking at the importance of openness to change and criticism from both sides. 

I have come to value the importance of challenging clients (and vice versa with challenging consultants) in order to drive meaningful progress. It’s easy to maintain the status quo, and more difficult to sometimes go against popular opinion but this is how we can encourage continuous improvement and innovation.  

When both the client and consultant embrace this, it can lead to better results and a stronger partnership. It’s all about setting high standards and urging everyone to bring their A-game. 

Supply Chain Consulting: Challenging Perspectives

Clients should feel confident challenging consultants to spark new ideas and better outcomes. A prime example could be when a client encourages their consultant to explore unconventional strategies or to challenge existing methodologies, ultimately leading to fresh perspectives and breakthrough solutions. But as mentioned in my previous post, this takes a level of expertise and understanding around the solution from the client’s side.  

On the other hand, consultants should respectfully challenge clients to come up with innovative solutions. For instance, consultants can shake up their clients’ assumptions and offer fresh perspectives. Giving constructive feedback and pushing clients to exceed expectations or question any intrinsic biases can benefit the outcome of the project (and working relationship) in the long-run. 

Case Study

I recently assisted a client with automating their Distribution Center (DC). After evaluating several potential vendors, the decision came down to two finalists. Although my team favoured and recommended Option B, the client opted for Option A, leading to a handful of unexpected hurdles along the way.  

Sound familiar? While this scenario may appear generic, it serves as a poignant reminder of the consultant’s responsibility to ensure the chosen supplier can deliver on the outlined requirements and educate our clients on the pros and cons of each option. 

In this instance, and almost every other one, there are no absolutes. Good consultants understand that decisions are rarely black and white, rather, they exist in shades of grey that require expert navigation. A client’s vision may differ from our initial suggestion, but so long as the solution is within the framework of achievability, we need to empathize with the client’s perspective, support their decisions, and ensure that the selected solution aligns with their needs and vendor capabilities. In an instance where a client proposes something unreasonable, it’s our responsibility to steer them towards more practical alternatives while respecting their vision. Effective consulting hinges on understanding client objectives, backing their choices, and ensuring that the chosen path aligns with their requirements. 

Final Thoughts

So, what’s the takeaway here? Client decisions may differ from the consultant’s advice. It’s important to remember the context, risk tolerance, and organizational dynamics that influence choices – and as consultants we need to respect this autonomy. By fostering clear communication and presenting all the options, a good consultant can be an advocate for a given solution while still supporting the final outcome – helping clients successfully navigate through the grey.  


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