The consultation process is a systematic process whereby a client requests and receives assistance from an expert who is not immediately involved in the ongoing operations of the organization in which the client works. As a result of this seeming objectivity or disinterested detachment, the consultant can diagnose issues and provide a viewpoint which insiders often are unable or unwilling to see.
The actual process of consultation takes on various forms. In some cases, the consultant primarily assists his client in better understanding the nature of the organizational challenges she faces and formulating an appropriate strategy to address these challenges. In other cases, the consultant actually conducts a change project for the client. In yet other cases, the consultant provides the client with resources or ideas so that the client can complete the change project herself or with others.
A consultant relationship is established with a specific client or small client group in the organization. This consultative relationship tends to be quite stable and the consultant/client relationship is rarely reversed. It would usually be considered inappropriate (even unethical) for a consultant to switch roles with one of his clients. As a rule, clients hold formal administrative positions in the organization. While they need not be at the top of the organization, they usually are in a place to initiate and fund a consultation and take action based on the recommendations made by the consultant. Consultative meetings usually take place in the client’s office during work hours. The agenda is typically established by the consulting client—often with clarifying assistance from the consultant. The length of a meeting will vary depending upon the client’s calendar.
Both the client and consultant must begin to trust one another’s competence, intentions and perspectives if the consultation is to be successful. Nevertheless, meetings between the client and consultant usually focus upon the task before them. They are rarely diverted to more personal issues, like, for example, the client’s personal concerns about the implementation of the ultimate recommendation or its impact on certain team relationships. The role of the consultant is one of focusing upon the convening consultative task, while also building sufficient rapport and trust to ensure continuous mutual understanding and increasing the likelihood that the client will execute the resulting recommendations. While the relationship between client and consultant can be cordial, it is also somewhat detached insofar as it is focused on the project and organization at hand.
Fees for the consultation are often negotiated before beginning the process or intervention. Financial remuneration for the consultant service can be fixed (such as hourly, daily or total amount for the project) or variable (such as a percentage of the gross amount of money saved over a given time). Traditionally, the consultation relationship is terminated and financial obligations are settled once the consultative task or project is completed.
Organizations have come to realize that an employee is a valuable asset and that its investment in that person needs to be sustained on an ongoing basis. Considering the cost to train and develop an employee, it is far better to help resolve an employee’s personal issues than to terminate her and hire a new employee. Thus, there has been a significant rise in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in recent years. EAPs assist referred employees with personal life issues that have negatively influenced their job performance. EAPs are often external counseling service agencies that are separate from the main or referring organization. They contract with a company for counseling services and are paid a capitation rate (a set amount per employee per month). Their task is to provide counseling to the employee (and occasionally to the employee’s family) in order to allow the employee to function fully in her organizational role. EAPs primarily confront issues associated with stress-related disorders, drug and substance abuse disorders, and marital or financial challenges.