Consulting: Problem-Solving

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At the beginning of this series on consulting, I discussed the role of consultants in the rental housing industry and explained that interpreting information and formulating recommendations for clients can be a complex challenge that requires experience, knowledge, problem-solving, and professionalism, attributes which not every consultant possesses. In this post, the third in this series, I’m going to talk about problem solving.

In two previous posts I discussed the importance of acquiring experience and knowledge for consultants. Experience and knowledge are closely related and can be acquired side-by-side, if consultants are able to hold a variety of jobs or positions in the industry, and when combined they enable consultants to understand how and why rental properties are designed, built, and managed they way they are, and why rental industry firms and rental industry participants act and prioritize the way they do. Experience and knowledge, if sufficiently grasped by consultants, enable consultants to help their clients’ solve problems.

Problems can take a lot of different forms, however, and solving them can be done in a lot of different ways. To prevent this topic from ballooning into a fifty-thousand word book, I’m going to make a few general statements about solving problems, focusing on ways of thinking instead of ways of doing.

Here’s some things you should think about when helping your clients:

  • Understanding problems… You must identify your client’s problems and seek to understand them in depth. Only by understanding problems fully can you offer meaningful solutions.
  • Client goals… You must determine your client’s goals precisely so you know where they want to end up. Although as part of your solutions you may suggest different end points, ultimately the client’s goals and expected end points should be your goalposts.
  • Client capabilities, culture, and employees… You should consider your client’s company culture and employees carefully and design solutions which fit with those things and which are within your client’s skills and capabilities.
  • Helping, not dictating… You need to help client solve their problems, not solve their problems for them. In other words don’t dictate solutions; instead, offer potential solutions and let your clients choose which solutions they’re most comfortable with. If you’ve provided your client with a sufficiently thorough range of options your client will be able to choose.
  • Transparent solutions… You should not design solutions which are closed or black-box. Solutions should be flexible and capable of being adapted on the fly as needed or as more information becomes available or as your client’s goals change.
  • Efficient solutions… You should design solutions which are efficient in terms of your client’s time and money and employee commitments.
  • Reliable solutions… You should design solutions which are robust and reliable. Don’t offer solutions which are untested or hypothetical; in other words don’t use your client as a test case.
  • Replicable solutions… You should design solutions which can be repeated in the future by your client if they encounter problems again.
  • Educational solutions… You should design solutions which help your client “learn” from the experience.

Here’s what you should NOT be thinking about:

  • Old solutions… Bring new solutions to new problems instead of bringing old solutions that you already know well. This another way of reverting to the familiar (with a measure of laziness) and it’s easy to do, especially if time is limited.
  • Other clients’ problems… Focus on the client at hand and don’t be distracted by other clients, even if their problems are similar to the problems of the client at hand.
  • Your own problems… You must never mistake your own problems for your client’s problems or you’ll end up solving your own problems instead helping your client with theirs. This is surprisingly easy to do since we all have our own “pet” problems that we’d prefer to solve instead of helping others with theirs. Reverting to the familiar is easy to do when faced with challenging new problems.
  • Future fees… Consultants need to earn fees or they go out of business. The best way to earn future fees is to design solutions which help clients, not design solutions aimed at future business.

That’s a lot to think about, and much of it overlaps with professionalism, which I’ll discuss in my next post.