As a Management Consultant, have you experienced this? 

You and your client develop a solid and friendly rapport. You feel you have opened the lines of communication and that you understand the entire scope of your engagement. However, as you progress through your project, you find that you and the client see progress differently. Conflict may develop, and the once sunny partnership now may have a veil of doubt and distrust, leading to either a shortened or incomplete project or, worse, a severed relationship.

In management consulting, our clients have needs, and we have a duty to uncover those needs, diagnose issues, and deliver quality (the fulfillment of the project’s requirements). Parts of our ethical responsibilities, according to IMC USA’s Code of Ethics, include:

  • Serving clients with integrity, competence, independence, objectivity, and professionalism
  • Establishing realistic expectations of the benefits and results with clients
  • Working within one’s competencies.

Properly managing client expectations begets successful engagements. Clients hire consultants to provide expertise and guidance, and they rely on the consultant to deliver what they expect as deliverables. When consultants fail to set and manage client expectations effectively, they can create a situation full of disappointment, frustration, and conflict for both parties.

How Management Consultants Can Manage Client Expectations

Consultants can manage client expectations ethically in several ways. 

  1. First, create clear and transparent documentation about the consultant’s role and responsibilities. Furthermore, this documentation should outline the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders and their organization. Consultants should obligate themselves to inform the client of their level of expertise, experience, and qualifications as they pertain to the requirements of the engagement. All parties should have a clearly defined scope of the project and the expected deliverables to be completed by the consultant.
  2. Second, set SMART goals. The project should be within the consultant’s ability to deliver on the client’s expectations. Goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-constrained reduce ambiguity and provide clarity. Consultants should not make promises that they cannot keep. If the consultant feels they cannot adequately meet a client’s expectations based on these goals, they should be honest with the client about their concerns.
  3. Third, create a plan. Once the consultant understands the client’s requirements and expectations, they should develop a plan to meet those needs. The plan should be documented and align all strategies with the objectives set in the SMART goals. Then, both parties should agree with the plan before springing into action.
  4. Fourth, communicate frequently. Include in your plan a sub-plan to facilitate regular communication with the client throughout the lifecycle of the project. This will help to ensure that the consultant remains on track to meet the client’s expectations. Regular meetings, using collaboration tools such as Asana, Trello, or Basecamp, and telephone, email, and teleconference technology provide the client opportunities to provide feedback and request change orders to the plan if necessary.
  5. Finally, exercise honesty and transparency with the client throughout the project. If there are any unexpected challenges or setbacks, the consultant should communicate them to the client as soon as possible. The consultant should assess any risks and strive to foresee potential outcomes of the project and should prepare to communicate alerts or warnings about those risks.

By following these tips, consultants can manage client expectations ethically and build strong relationships with their clients.

Additional Tips for Fostering Client Relationships

We offer here a few more additional tips for managing client expectations ethically:

  • Respond to your client’s needs, but be firm regarding scope. Maintain a willingness to go the extra mile to meet their expectations, but inform the client of scope creep in every situation – you ethically owe that to your client and to your company.
  • Exercise professionalism and ethical behavior in all of your dealings with your client. This includes respecting their confidentiality and avoiding conflicts of interest.
  • Leverage a framework for client engagements. ISO 20700 Guidelines for Management Consultancy provide a standardized checklist for consultants to deliver their services to improve transparency and understanding between the consulting firm and the clients.
  • Develop your consulting competencies with continuing education. The landscape of business changes constantly. Therefore, consultants must adopt a mindset of perpetual learning. Taking courses such as those offered by IMC USA (see below) can improve your KSAOs (knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics) to help you meet your clients’ demands.

By following these tips, you can build strong and lasting relationships with your clients.

ISO 20700 Training

This course will help you understand the ISO 20700 guidelines for the effective delivery of management consultancy services. The use of this ICMCI checklist tool will help you apply these guidelines on all your projects, creating transparency between you and your clients. With this knowledge, you can establish yourself as a credible and reliable consultant in the eyes of your clients.

QuickStart Competency Training

QuickStart is an online interactive training program that teaches the essentials to create a successful consulting practice, serves as a proven foundational framework that includes consulting process and ethics facilitated by an experienced Certified Management Consultant (CMC®), and provides a peer group after the training to support your business growth.