When I was initially starting out as a performance consultant, clients used to ask what that title meant—what is a performance consultant? And I’d stumble into a definition of what human performance improvement is and what distinguishes it from other approaches only to discover that after about the second sentence my client’s eyes had usually glazed over. Typically we, as performance consultants do a lousy job trying to explain to clients what it is we do and why it works. And the biggest reason why this happens repeatedly is that we fail to see (or hear) things from a client’s perspective.
An accurate definition of HPT or HPI may be fine and good but frankly, most clients don’t care about the academics or the theory. Their focus is more likely to be on: “what can you do for me?” Now if a client wants to know how my approach differs from that of someone in another field, I’m more than happy to provide a performance consulting model or explain particular aspects of the process. But now, when talking with clients, my explanation usually is about the payoff to the clients—the business result. Most of the time I tell clients (especially executives) that I’m a “business consultant.” Because, frankly, the process I use (performance consulting) is of secondary interest to my clients—what they want are results.
The audio-logo (mentioned previously in this blog) is a good technique to explain to clients what performance consulting is or to provide a way to help them get their hands around it. It’s particularly good at providing an example of performance consulting at work (for more information on audio-logo’s see our blog archives). But I find that in most cases, it is just a distraction to try and explain what HPI is or what the process is like (unless the client is hungry for those details—and some are). Instead, the focus on business results or fixing the problem seems to work the best from my experience.
Think of it this way: if a client asked you to provide training, it would be overkill to go into an explanation of the ADDIE model or the rationale for using multiple colored markers on each flipchart. Yet as performance consultants we often feel like we have to explain the theory behind the approach. I’ve concluded that unless the client asks for explanation or differentiation, I’m a “business consultant” who helps them improve performance.