Today I learned about consulting from a surprising source.
It began at lunch yesterday, when my usually positive pal Ellie remarked that my hair wasn’t looking so great. I think the word she used was listless. The cut was fine. But she wondered about the color. What was up with the color?
In order to tell this story I have to admit that I’ve been throwing color at my hair for years. Recently, I’ve encouraged my stylist to use a bit less color, to help me transition to a more real me, a salt and pepper me.
But it has been a few steps forward and then about the same number of steps backwards. Just when I think I am ready to let the gray emerge, I pass a mirror and recognize my grandmother out of the corner of my eye. Then I ask my stylist to hit me with color.
I’ve tried for solutions to my multi-colored head of hair. Last month I complained to my stylist about the blondish-reddish hue that was framing my forehead. What was that? It looked nasty. What magic could he produce to reduce that off-color halo? I sat there for an extra fifteen minutes of treatment. He said it was no problem.
A few weeks later Ellie questioned my hair. It remains a problem.
This consultant needs a consultant.
I reached out to a friend who is fussy about her hair. She schooled me on something I had missed. Salons are now full of specialists. This one cuts. Another one colors. Yet another does brows or nails. Still another rejuvenates skin. You wouldn’t hire an evaluation expert to build your performance support tools, would you?
I decided to seek out a hair color consultant. I stopped by the recommended studio to see Larry. He is but one of several color experts attached to the studio. There is an even larger cohort of cutters. The receptionist looked stunned that I thought I could just drop by to consult with Larry. She offered to inquire if he had a moment for me.
He did. A young man walked swiftly towards me.
He spent no more than four minutes. He looked me up and down. He ran his hands through my hair. Many people compliment my thick, wavy hair. No such luck with Larry.
He asked questions that I could answer (about what I wanted my hair to look like, what was wrong with the status quo) and a few I couldn’t (about the current hair products and treatments.)
He offered two possible paths, one that interested me and one that did not. Attentive to my reaction, he framed the outline of a plan. Did I think that might work for me? Yes, I said, and walked to the reception desk, eager for an appointment to begin my transformation.
She delivered the bad news. Eight days until my appointment. It will be eight days before I see Larry again.
While I wait, I think about the essence of consulting.
This movement to a more consistently colorful me served up reminders about consulting. What was it that Larry did?
- He focused on me
- He asked questions that made sense, questions that pointed to where I am and where I want to be
- He asked questions I couldn’t answer, leaving the door open for me to do some research on my own
- He oozed expertise through silent review, questions, comments and reputation
- When I didn’t cotton to his first idea, which was to do nothing, he offered an alternative plan that held out hope for improvements
- He earned my trust by being willing to do no treatment at all and thus to earn nothing at all
- He presented the outline, but not the details, of what felt to me like a promising plan
- He asked for my commitment to do something about my dilemma and gave me a way to move forward on the path
Larry returned to his client, and I timidly asked the receptionist what this is going to cost. Color costs a minimum of $93. That’s the least it can cost, she added. Might be more.
It reminded me of my second consulting gig, at least thirty years ago. I had met for an hour with the director of a large training organization. She had to rush off to a meeting, and asked me to leave a note indicating what our services would cost. Eager to please, I low-balled the number of days and the daily rate. That night she called. She wondered if my rates were a joke. Her leadership wouldn’t think we were high quality consultants if our rates were puny.
No such problem with Larry and the salon. His consulting skills set the table for willingness to pay a hundred dollars each month for color. Just color. The cut is something else. I will happily pay because today I am full of hope about my hair.
There is, however, much more for this consultant to accomplish. He has to improve my hair color. And he has to help me sustain it. Larry is lucky because he has a motivated, persistent client.
You can see why this experience echoes the world of consulting. There’s diagnostics, execution and continuous improvement. There is the external consultant and then there is the client. The consultant gathers data, points to solutions, urges new habits, raises awareness, recommends approaches, systems and technology, and nudges, nudges, nudges. But we know who is responsible for turning the stuff of external consulting into meaningful results, don’t we?
[The eight days flew by and it is now the day after Larry’s intervention. Read all about it here, including his reaction and mine.}