One of the criticisms that veterans face today is effectively demonstrating how their skills translate into private sector lingo and experience. In fact, Ben Bernanke, a former Chair of the United States Federal Reserve Bank, recently advocated that military members, after serving, lagged considerably behind their civilian counterparts, which disturbed me greatly as a veteran (to save you time, skip to the 30 min mark of the video in the link provided). Therefore, rather than sit on my hands and brew over his negative comments, I decided to share one of the
Organizational consulting is accomplished by those who have knowledge and proficiency in a specific arena and help organizations in their progression by examining existing interior processes and procedures. They may also be used to assist with new operations, which can be describe as filling the role of a change agent, while also executing a particular role as a consultant (Block, 2011). This article will discuss, as a change agent from personal experience, and also filling the role of a consultant, just how to differentiate between the roles of what are referred to in the private sector as:
1. an expert,
2. a pair-of-hands, and
3. a collaborator.
Using personal anecdotes, I will discuss the accountability issues associated with each role. Additionally, a discussion of which role I believe assisted me in becoming a successful change agent will be waged. Lastly, with the understanding that a consultant should be equipped to fill the roles in accordance with a client's needs, an explanation of what I, as a transitioning consultant, can do to improve the performance in the other roles that I was the least prepared to fill at the time of my transition will be offered. Again, I am sharing my experiences here as just one example. I encourage my fellow veteran consultants to also share their transition experiences as well, thus hopefully creating a rich resource for those in need who will follow us.
Differentiation Between Rolls
Depending upon the specific organization and culture the change agent is part of, the three roles of being the expert, the pair-of-hands, or the basic collaborator could vary. I have extensive experience within the military in the capacity of each role. At the same time, in the private sector, consultants should “strive to maintain a close, trustful relationship with clients and engage them in problem solving” (Travica, 2012, p. 240). This is certainly something that was a daily part of my experience as a senior enlisted Marine of 28 years, as the senior officers and juniors Marines were considered my clients, though in different capacities.
The Expert Role
Block (2011) described the role of the expert in the context of an internal consultant, which is a person that has shared interest in an organization and who also serves others within the organization in problem identification and problem solving (certainly veterans can relate to this). Within this context, Block (2011), delineated that an expert is a person who completely has the trust and confidence of the person they are serving (i.e., the client) and are deferred to regarding all aspects in diagnosing and correcting a client’s issue or problem. As an offered example, serving as a senior noncommissioned officer, responsible for various mission, logistics, and multiple military unit commodities, I was often called upon to act as an expert to various Commanding Generals (CG), Commanding Officers (CO) and Officers in Charge (OIC). One personal instance included an issue that the CG needed to solve, which surrounded staffing and relocating food service personnel, while also maintaining oversight of an external civilian food service contractor. The CG had neither the expertise nor the time to deal with the issue. Therefore, it was passed on to me to diagnose and solve.
The Pair-of-Hands Role
Remaining with the interpretations of Block (2011), the pair-of-hands role is described as when the client remains in control and diagnoses the problem, formulates the course of corrective action, and then the consultant applies their specific expertise in the implementation of the plan. Utilizing the previous analogy and in my position serving under the CG, the CG in this case, would appoint a Commanding Officer (CO) (i.e., client) for me to work under. The CO would formulate an overall desired outcome, utilizing the allocated resources, and then I would assist, utilizing my specialized skills, in realizing the CO’s vision. As an offered example, I was responsible for providing expertise in feeding 800 troops two hot meals per day for 45 days in support of a military operation, while also maintaining the accountability and welfare of 30 other personnel under my charge. The CO allocated resources, overall intent, schedules, locations, and the time-slots required for feeding. I then utilized my skill set to implement the plan of action provided.
The Collaborator Role
Finally, and again staying with the interpretations of Block (2011), the role of a collaborator consultant resides in the consultant using their skill set to assist the client in identifying and solving the posed problems. Utilizing the previous analogy of my position serving under the CG, the CG in this case would appoint a Commanding Officer (CO), and then the CO would assign an Officer in Charge (OIC), in which I would work with. Customarily, the OIC would be largely inexperienced but highly capable, and would then also work with me, who was vastly experienced, in collaboration, to investigate and solve the potential problem. As a last example, I and an OIC were responsible for inspecting subordinate commodity military food service units to ensure they were mission capable and ready. Often times the OIC and I would come across issues, during unit inspections, and would collaborate on a course of action to follow, then educate where needed, and report our actions up the chain of command.
Perception of Accountability Issues
Regarding the expert consultant, many times an issue has multiple variables associated with it, some of which are out of the control of the expert consultant (e.g., human, resources, etc.) (Anderson & Anderson, 2010a; 2010b; Block, 2011). These variables could, at times, adversely affect the experts’ ability to get at the true root of the issue (Block, 2011). Additionally, if the expert is external (i.e., outside the organization being assisted), the likelihood of sustained problem solution implementation is diminished greatly after the consultant has moved on (Block, 2011). Therefore, accountability for long-term sustainment equally diminishes, which is the goal of any change initiative. Regarding the pair-of-hands consultant, accountability rests with the client, as the consultant is merely assisting with executing the imposed action plan. Therefore, the client should be held accountable for success or failure. However, the consultant usually becomes the victim of blame regarding unrealized outcomes, according to practitioners (Block, 2011); something again we veterans and many others can relate to. Lastly, regarding the collaborator consultant, outside of the needed time for true collaborative relationships to form, Block (2011) effectively articulated issues that could directly affect accountability. Block (2011) specified that clients who prefer to work with a pair-of-hands consultants might misinterpret the consultants collaborative actions as a form of insubordination, and those clients working with expert consultants could interpret collaborative actions as attempts to either “indifference or foot dragging” (Block, 2011, p. 27).
The Best Role for Becoming a Change Agent
The best role, in my view, is that of the collaborator, as it best describes the desires for establishing a 50/50 collaborative relationship between the consultant and client, which is also the recommendation of Block (2011). It is also, in my view, the best example of correlated military experiences, as teamwork and collaboration are the motto's of the veteran community. Additionally, I have a preference of the transformational leadership style, which also advocates for team collaboration and cohesiveness (Anderson & Anderson, 2010a; 2010b; Northouse, 2013).
The Roles Currently Best Equipped to Play
Given my aforementioned military background, I feel that the best role I am equipped to play currently is the collaborative role, though, there are many roles that would allow me to assist as both a pair-of-hands (e.g., community service work, etc.) and expert (e.g., leadership and team dynamics expert, or Marine Corps Logistics expert, etc.). The reason for being best suited for the collaborative role is that I again identify with and look to adopt and nurture a transformational leadership style, which allows for assuming all or some of the three roles, depending on the situational need of an organization. Having the ability to assist in multi-dimensional ways, while looking to develop the people and organization collectively, is in line with my personal values.
Improving Performance in Non-elected Roles
In identifying with the transformational leadership style, the collaborative consultant role, I can look to fill the expert and pair-of hands roles by looking to learn through adopted mentorship and through independent experience with clients in need of these roles. Additionally, improvement can be garnered through continued academic experiences and through the reading of case studies, books from practitioners (like that of Peter Block), and articles regarding others who fill those roles.
So there you have it my fellow veterans. With the help of Peter Block, I have hopefully assisted you, through sharing some of my experiences, on just one way to artfully correlate your military expertise, as a consultant, with the language that is accepted, used, and recognized in the private sector of consulting. Again, I encourage my fellow veterans to also share their experiences here as well, because teamwork should not stop when your service ends! Good Luck!
If you, or a colleague you know are in need of ideas or motivations for getting organized as a workforce team, Organizing Resolutions with Starks can assist. We advise our clients within their small business, to create balance and control in their organization through uniquely tailored organizational team strategies! I leave you with one word to start you on your journey towards creating a more collaborative workforce team—Selflessness. Now come on, let’s get organized!
Anderson, L. A., & Anderson, D. (2010a). Beyond change management: How to achieve breakthrough results through conscious change leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Anderson, L. A., & Anderson, D. (2010b). The change leader’s roadmap: How to navigate your organization’s transformation (2 ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Block, P. (2011). Flawless consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Travica, B. (2012). Culture of informing: A case of consulting company. Economic and Business Review, 14(3), 223-249.