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Whether you are an external consultant, or a manager within an organization, you have a four step ladder as a path for the development of your business engagement with others. Make sure you know where you are in that ladder, what level. Be as self-critical as you can to avoid frustrations, fiascos, disappointments or simply a complete failure in the relationship.

Level one: attention. This is the starting point. The external consultant needs to be heard. He has to say, or do, something that deserves the airtime.  The manager needs to be known and heard, as well, by his superiors. There are perhaps hundreds of peers. Some are noticed by the leadership, others not. In large organizations, many managers operate under the radar screen of the higher leadership (which, incidentally, may suit a number of them). They don’t even reach the attention level.

Level two: permission. Here Seth Goding stroke a cord when, as far as 15 years ago, he introduced the concept of ‘Permission Marketing’. Whilst traditional marketing was about ‘interrupting the consumer ‘(television add, bill board), in modern times and current business environment – he said – we  need to create a ‘permission’ to engage. We need to ‘acquire consent’ to send information, to sell products and services. It’s ‘selected permission’ vs. ‘indiscriminate interruption’, Seth said.

In this level two, the consultant that has gained some attention needs to obtain the ‘permission to come back again’, to continue the conversation. In the manager’s case, it means that having been noticed, he has to gain now in this step, permission to come back to his superiors with more (ideas, suggestions, interventions). Again, many mangers stay at the ‘one off’ or ‘occasional’ I am here, and then they disappear.

Level three: Reputation. In the consultant’s case, in this level, he has established a visible added value. He is now known by his expertise, his value, perhaps what he does well, what he knows, his skills. Now, ‘he has a name’ (note the terminology people use such as ‘making a name of oneself’). In the manager’s case, he is now ‘well known’, perhaps in the path of promotion, or at least, his ‘name’ is now established as perhaps one of those 20% of managers that make the difference.

Level four: request to engage. In this level, the consultant is formally asked for help, to engage within the organization. In the manager’s case, he is asked to participate in a special group or task force, or chosen as somebody representing his peers. Perhaps he is asked to contribute on something specific, beyond his role description.

Level one and level two, attention and permission, are both ‘push levels’. The consultant or the internal manager, both are pushing for attention. They are seeking special airtime. And in doing so, they may have fierce competition. Even at this basic level, attention is hard to obtain. Level three, reputation , is half a way between a ‘push’ and ‘pull’. Level three has the key in the door to reach the ultimate level, the request for engagement. Level four is a ‘pull level’. Either the external consultant or the internal manager, both are pulled to engage, contribute, advise, do, help, be part of the team, lead. There is no need for a push anymore.

The place in the organization chart in which an internal manager dwells, is irrelevant in terms of these four levels. You as an external consultant may be dealing with a Very High, Group Level, Corporate function in the 32nd floor of the client’s HQ, but that function may have zero reputation amongst their own Business Units. In fact, in my experience, some corporate functions are barely in level 1 (seeking attention): they are pushing to be heard themselves internally. Expecting too much from a level one interlocutor may be crazy. The external consultant may be banking on the internal reputation of his client. If the client is fighting himself for internal airtime, it’s not exactly ‘the blind leading the blind’, but it may be pretty close.

Being aware that there is a parallel between the position of the external consultant and the position of the internal manager, and that both have the same ladder to climb, can help the dynamic relationship between them. A partnership  model now makes more sense, as opposed to a pure transactional one. Both have journeys in front. Both have attention, permission, reputation and  ‘request’ in front . It’s worth knowing where each other is in the ladder. For obvious reasons…


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