Because the agreement is the culmination of the contact phase, it
is tempting to gloss over finalizing the agreement. This is
especially true when consultant and client know each other and have
worked together before. Nevertheless, many internal consultants who
were interviewed for this book cautioned against this oversight.
Each project brings different issues, roles, and expectations. You
may discover that even with a contract or agreement, some clients
may be unwilling to address issues that arise during the project.
In addition, with the fast pace of today's business environment,
there are likely to be new stakeholders, changing business demands,
or a restructured organization. It is prudent, as experienced
consultants advocate, to commit the time to review the client's
perspective and expectations, confirm the client and consultant
roles, and verify the actions that you will each take to support
Sticking to the Agreement
As the stories told by the internal consultants we interviewed
suggest, another complex issue is pressure from superiors to change
an agreement. Keeping your agreements builds credibility, promotes
open communication, and builds trust. Keeping agreements also can
mean taking risks. For example, you may need to communicate bad
news; your client may need to take a courageous stand with his or
her team or colleagues. Both parties should, of course, only make
agreements they intend to keep and avoid making or accepting
unclear or open-ended agreements.
Give early notice if you must change or break an agreement, and
clean up any unintentionally broken agreements promptly. Despite
all of your efforts at keeping your agreements, senior-level
managers may demand changes in agreements. There are some steps you
can take to minimize that possibility:
- Make or facilitate clear agreements between primary clients or
sponsors at the senior or executive level and the secondary clients
who are more closely involved
in the project.
- Ensure that all stakeholders are kept informed and involved in
- During early consulting phases, discuss with all of the
appropriate clients how to use your consulting expertise. Resist
pressure to take a different approach to avoid being accountable
for less-than successful results.
- Take time to address concerns and resistance.
- Involve other critical functional units in the contracting
- Review the importance of keeping agreements as a consultant,
and ask clients if they are willing to follow the same practice.
Another important area of agreement with your client is how
feedback will be delivered and received. Delivering bad news or
critical feedback can place internal consultants in a vulnerable
position. Clients can retaliate or shut them out if they do not
like what they hear. A candid discussion can be painful, but
frankness can reduce the risk later. Explore the client's openness
to tough messages and issues of confidentiality, power, control,
personal style, and authenticity. Will differences of opinion be
governed by power and authority or by mutual respect and
competence? Including this topic in your discussions and agreements
psychologically prepares your client for hearing bad news and
sensitive feedback. This way, the internal consultant receives
permission to address the tough subjects that the client may not
hear about from others.
Including Details in the Agreement
Emily Jarosz, a former internal consultant, offered a useful
checklist, as shown in figure 6-1, for items that should be
included in the agreement. Some items, labeled "always include,"
are critical items for all projects, while others are suggested "as
needed" by the client, the stage, or the character of the project.
Some items are more likely to be included after the information and
data-collection phase, with alignment and agreement to move forward
to implement an intervention.
Whether the project is with a new or a long-term client, clarifying
expectations about the work and your role before the agreement is
finalized will enhance the project's success. Being clear about
what you and your client expect from each other is a preventive
step that can avoid later conflict or misunderstanding. Here are
some items that can be considered and included in your agreement:
- the model or approach to change that you will use
- the data upon which your work will be based
- the vision of success
- the way that success will be measured
- the roles of consultant, client, and members of the client
- the way information and data will be handled
- the way you will communicate with one another
- boundaries of confidentiality
- the scope and parameters of this project
- responsibilities of the consultant, client, and others
- clarification of how the consultant's expertise is to be used
- the nature of the consultant's relationship with the client
- agreement on delivering sensitive feedback and bad news
- deliverables and timetable
- budget, resources, and support needed from the client
- access and availability of the client
- measures of success for evaluation.
Administrative tasks and responsibilities should also be clearly
accounted for in the agreement. Internal consultants often end up
performing tasks that are seldom expected of the external
consultant. Because you live in the organization as an employee,
your clients may expect you to drive the project, provide the
leadership, or do the administrative work. You may need to ask
yourself if you are willing to accept these responsibilities and,
if not, what support the client should provide. One consultant
emphasized the importance, at times, of including an agreement to
use the time and expertise of the client's administrative
assistant. Developing a strong relationship with an executive
assistant can yield immeasurable benefits in accessing senior-level
clients, obtaining approvals, and arranging schedules. In addition,
such support supplements your own administrative support in sending
out announcements and communicating with the client system. Even if
leadership or administrative responsibilities are not part of the
agreement, you may end up being the organizational nudge who
reminds people of meetings, timelines, and goals, and just "keeps
the trail warm," as one internal consultant put it.
Finalizing the Agreement
With assumptions and expectations clarified, it is appropriate to
finalize the agreement. The level of detail in the agreement
depends on the size and type of the project and the business and
relationship issues involved. It may also depend on the clarity of
the defining issue and what additional information is needed.
During many projects, clarifying expectations, reaching agreements,
and gathering information is a cyclical, ongoing process; you gain
a different, independent view of the issues through collecting
information and data. This affects how you approach the project.
Additionally, as the project develops, the client may make
additional requests. In either case, it is necessary to cycle back
and revise the agreement.
For example, a new senior manager might ask the internal consultant
to collect information from the members of his or her department
about their development concerns and performance goals and to make
recommendations about next steps. Clarification of agreements can
be as simple as saying, "I am going to contact each of the members
of your department, solicit information on the performance of the
new system, prepare a summary and recommendations, and meet with
you in three weeks." Then, clarify what is expected from the
client: "And you are going to let them all know to expect a call
from me and to set aside time to meet with me."
Experienced consultants strongly suggest that every client
telephone call or meeting end with a statement of mutual
expectation and confirmation of agreements. This effort alone can
save days of misdirected work (not to mention the frustration that
is bound to occur when you put time and effort into work that is
not what the client expected or finds valuable).
For projects of a few hours to a few days, a verbal agreement is
often sufficient. However, some consultants and some clients prefer
putting the agreements - even for shorter projects - in writing. If
you are unsure at the beginning of a client relationship, send a
confirmatory memo by email. Most clients will be grateful to
receive a clear, brief note outlining expectations.
A verbal agreement may also be all that is needed if the consultant
is only going to take one or two steps before meeting again with
the client to define and confirm a longer or more detailed project.
For a new client or one who needs to see agreements in writing, it
is useful to confirm the agreements for the next steps in a memo.
For longer projects that may take from several days to weeks,
months, or even years, a more structured agreement or project plan,
with a description of the presenting issues and potential
opportunities to be addressed, a list of the key activities,
timeframes, and the expected measurable results, is useful. A
statement regarding the consultant's role and agreements about the
partnership with the client and the approach to the work can be
included. In some organizations and disciplines, a one-page
memorandum is more customary; in others a longer, more detailed
document is appropriate.
Summing Up and Looking Ahead
The product of the agreement phase is a confirmed agreement between
the consultant and the client. This agreement may be verbal or
written. It may specify only the next steps of data and information
collection, or it may detail the phases of a long, complex project.
The clearer the consultant and the client are about their
expectations, the greater the chance for success of the
intervention. The agreements should include clarity about outcomes,
process, next steps to be taken by consultant and client,
timelines, budget, and the support and resources needed. With this
clear agreement, the internal consultant is ready for the next
phase - information and assessment.
This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of Consulting on the Inside:
A Practical Guide for Internal Consultants. The book can be
Beverly Scott has been an outside and inside
consultant for a wide range of companies from the past 35 years.She
has master's degrees in sociology and human resource development,
and has been a speaker and facilitator at many industry events.
B. Kim Barnes is founder and CEO of Barnes &
Conti Associates and has more than 35 years of consulting
experience, including internal and external consulting roles with
organizations in a broad range of industries.