Consulting Rule #3

I often state a truism that I stole from someone I can’t remember – In consulting, as in medicine, prescription before diagnosis is malpractice. (If you are this person, I apologize, I owe you a beer.)

In a recent conversation while on a walk with my wife, Christine, we concluded that there is a corollary to this rule – You can’t prescribe if the patient/customer will not let you diagnose.

I hear about this problem more than a couple of times a week from Sage partners with whom I am speaking. It usually manifests itself like this, “Ed, I was trying to get an understanding of why the customer thought a request they had made was important, and they told me that they don’t reveal that information to outsider consultants. What can I do?”

My initial response is a half-kidding, “Run away!”

After explaining that I am kidding, sort of, I state, “Perhaps you should suggest to them that they reconsider and explain that while you understand their concern, it is not in their best interest to withhold this information. Consider this – if you go to a cardiac surgeon and just ask for a triple bypass operation, any ethical doctor will first insist on a few tests before performing the surgery. Certainly, they would want to take your blood pressure and heart rate. Would it make any sense to say, ‘Hmm, I don’t know, I don’t think I want to reveal that information to you.’? Clearly, it would not. I am in the same situation as the doctor, without a full understanding of the problem, it would be unethical for me to proceed. So, I ask you to reconsider and answer my questions. If not, I really don’t think I can help you.”

Is this hardball? Maybe, but your only alternative is to violate your ethics and prescribe before diagnosing.

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3 Responses to “Consulting Rule #3”

  1. Free January 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    I like the MD comparison because most patients (I hear) only show up when they are feeling symptoms and are in some kind of pain. Why are we talking to someone who is not in “Pain”?

    It sounds to me that the customer/prospect/suspect who won’t cooperate with you when you ask questions, is telling me that there isn’t enough pain to require them to change their processes.

    What I would do is to ask if they have a pain that needs to be resolved. If they say they don’t have any pain then you can be sure they won’t buy anything from you!

  2. Ed Kless January 12, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Thanks, Free.

    The one downside of the doctor analogy is the customer who is looking for potential benefit not just pain relief. Some customer need consultants to help them improve an already decent situation.

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  1. Are Free Demos and Price Quotes Killing ERP? « The ERP Lifestyle Consultant - April 11, 2012

    […] As professional service providers do we not have a duty to first diagnose before prescribing. To coin Ed Kless’s phrase – “prescription before diagnosis is malpractice”. […]

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