Rethinking Peter Block’s Questions

For a long time I have been an admirer of Peter Block. His works Flawless Consulting, The Answer to How is Yes! and Community have long been on my recommended reading list.

Especially intriguing to me have been the six transformations of questions that he posits in The Answer to How… Here they are as he sees them:

How do you do it? What is the refusal I have been postponing?
How long will it take? What is the commitment I am willing to make?
How much does it cost? What is the price I am willing to pay?
How do you get those people to change? What is my contribution to the problem?
How do you measure it? What is the crossroads at which I find myself?
How have others done it successfully? What do we want to create together?


Block’s general thesis is that while the How-based questions are important and need to be answered, the problem is that when they are asked and answered too early in the consulting process they tend to be a defensive  mechanism against change and, therefore, they stifle creativity and innovation. According to Peter Block a great consultant is one who is able to shift the dialogue to the What-based questions first and later return, if needed, to the How-based.

With all of this, I agree. However, after having spent about seven years teaching these as is, I am ready (and perhaps bold enough) to recommend a couple of changes to the What-based questions.

First, in place of “What is the price I am willing to pay?” I suggest the following: “What is the value of it to me?” After much thought, I believe this is the better question because it focuses on the primary idea of perceived value. As we know price is derived from perceived value, so looking at price is incorrect because it presupposes value.

Second, in place of “What is the crossroads at which I find myself?” I suggest, “What is the judgment I need to make?” Unlike the first, I believe I am still completely in alignment with Block on this idea and my change is more in semantics. However, I like this question better because a) it is easier to understand and b) it is in alignment with my mantra much written about on this blog that all measurements are judgments in disguise.

If you find this post confusing, might I suggest that you read The Answer to How… It is truly one of the best books on the subject of consulting ever written.

Help Me Understand?

One of the key devices I use as a consultant is something I call the “Help me understand” question. I use this when there is an apparent contradiction between two statements or behaviors of a person.

The structure is this: Help me understand how A (one behavior or statement) is in alignment with B (the other behavior or statement)?

For example: Help me understand how letting one of your best people get away from your organization is in alignment with your company’s stated goal of attracting and retaining great people?

Sometimes this leads me to some very good insight and a much deeper understanding of the issues. Very often, I am convinced that A and B are, in fact, in alignment and that what was lacking was my deeper understanding.

Other times however, the person I am working with is unable to reconcile the dissonance and adjusts their behavior or statement accordingly.

Still other times I receive no feedback from the question, especially if I pose it in email. I can only assume that they make no adjustment and go on living a contradiction.

Insights Session – Consulting and the Crisis of Self-esteem

Building Self-Esteem (or, Why Are You Worth Feeding?)On Wednesday, May 19th at 9:15am at Sage North America’s annual partner conference, Insights, I will be presenting a session entitled Consulting and the Crisis of Self-esteem (GEN53).

This session will be dedicated to the possibility that a professional can increase his or her self-esteem through a better understanding of what consulting really is. Improving one’s self-esteem is difficult because it requires us to think at a high level of introspection. You are hereby invited to open a dialogue on a different model for creating success in a professional firm.

I intend for this session to be interactive. I have about 20 minutes of material and would then like to have a conversation with you about the ideas presented and maybe even brainstorm some possible action items we can take once we get back home after the conference.

Perhaps this video from Alan Weiss of Summit Consulting will spur some thinking ahead of time. I bet many of you have seen it.


For those of you who plan on attending the session, please comment below with any thoughts or questions that you would especially like me to address during our time together.

Another reason why I am obsessed with uncovering value

I am often accused of being obsessed with uncovering value when in the discovery and dialogue step (sometimes known as the sales process) of a consulting engagement.

One of the key statistics I cite is from the Standish Group and their research on small and medium business information technology projects – 47 percent of SMB IT projects cost 190 percent of the original estimate. I often round it and say, “half cost double.”

This of course leads me to suggest using the McKinsey and Company mantra, that unless the consultant can help uncover three times the value of any price they would propose for a solution, then the consultant will not even propose a solution. In addition to being sound business advice, it is also quite a disarming comment for a consultant to make.

Well, there is more distressful news on this front this week. In an article in PCWorld by Chris Kanaracus entitled Widespread Discontent Persists with ERP Projects, the author opens with following citation of a recent study conducted by Panorama Consulting Group, “More than half of companies that implement ERP systems end up garnering no more than 30 percent of the business benefits they expected.” To round this one I would say, “half get a third.”

Now, I will not vouch for the veracity of these numbers. I believe that business is art, not science, and any attempts at making it science are of the pseudo variety.

That said, combine these two thoughts together and you have a pretty good explanation of why no decisions and other forms of stuck sales are so prevalent in this industry.

Think about it, we are in a position where prospective customers have (at least some form of) documented “evidence” that:

  • half cost double
  • half get a third

If you do not assist a customer in developing a perceived value in dollars, the following will (perhaps has) happen:

A company budgets $30,000 (software and “services”) for a new ERP solution. It ends up costing double, $60,000. Since the provider never got a solid understanding of value from the customer, the customer assigns the original price to be the value number, again, $30,000. A year goes by and the customer only feels like they gain one third of the value they thought they would get, $10,000.

To sum it up, spent 60K, got 10K. Oh yeah, let’s upgrade!

My Sessions at Sage Insights 2010

A few of you have written to me to ask about what sessions I am facilitating at Sage Insights 2010. Thank you for the vote of confidence as I assume this is because you would like to attend them, not avoid them. In either case, here they are:

Code Day & Time Title


Sunday, 8:00am – 5:00pm

Sage Consulting Workshop


Monday, 1:15pm – 2:15pm

Creating a Great Scope Document


Monday, 2:30pm – 3:30pm

Managing an Engagement From an Issues List


Tuesday, 3:15pm – 4:15pm

Enhancing Your Customer’s Experience


Wednesday, 9:15am – 10:15am

Consulting and the Crisis of Self-Esteem


Wednesday, 1:30pm – 3:00pm

Creating the Firm of the Future (Part 1 of 3)


Wednesday, 3:15pm – 4:15pm

Creating the Firm of the Future (Part 2 of 3)


Wednesday, 4:30pm – 5:30pm

Creating the Firm of the Future (Part 3 of 3)


Thursday, 8:00am – 9:00am

Creating a Partner-Based Service Level Agreement


Thursday, 9:15am – 10:15am

The Parting Glass: So What and Who Cares?

Sage Partner Consulting Workshops

Yesterday, in Atlanta, I delivered the first of many Consulting Workshops for partners of Sage North America. Here is what one participant, Fred Wright had to say about the experience:


If you are a Sage partner and interested in attending one of these upcoming events, you can register by going to Select the Build Knowledge tab, and then Academies and Boot Camps. You can also go to

Current dates include:

  • January 26 in Tampa, FL
  • February 9 in Austin, TX
  • February 16 in Phoenix, AZ
  • March 9 in Irvine, CA
  • March 23 in Herndon, VA
  • April 6 in New York City
  • April 20 in Boston, MA

Introduction to Resistance

I was honored to speak at the ITA Fall 2009 Collaborative in Rancho Mirage on the topic of monitoring an controlling project in software implementation engagements.

During the presentation I did a brief workshop on dealing with resistance. The video clip is part of the introduction to that topic. My thanks to Wendy Gorrie of Plus Computer Solutions for agreeing to serve as my videographer for the session, she captured way more that I had hoped. (I hope the blood returned to your arm, Wendy.)


I am deeply indebted to Peter Block who developed this idea extensively in his book Flawless Consulting.

If you are interested to view the entire segment, please send me an email at ed.kless *at*

Stop with the “Trusted Advisor!”

I have been bombarded this week with people saying they are “trusted advisors.” So much so that I must react.

While being a trusted advisor is certainly a worthy goal of any professional, please realize that it rarely happens. David Maister in his book entitled The Trusted Advisor says relatively little time is spent in truly trusted advisor relationships which he defines as a relationship, “in which, virtually all issues, personal and professional, are open to discussion and exploration. The trusted advisor is the person the client turns to when the issue first arises, often times of great urgency: a crisis, a change, a triumph, or a defeat.”

With this definition in mind, I find it the height of hubris to say to a prospective customer, “I want to be your trusted advisor,” or, “We like to think of ourselves as trusted advisors.”

My response, “Keep thinking and keep walking!”

FORD – a model for consulting

A little over three years ago, a dialogue began in one of my consulting classes that I teach for Sage. The conversation focused around the levels (I am not convinced levels is the right word) of consulting. In the end, the group proposed the following four levels: Findings, Options, Recommendations, and Decision. Serendipitously, this yielded the acronym FORD. (I personally own a Honda Pilot.)

This model has served me quite well over the last few years, so I thought it worthy of a post wherein I will briefly define each level and provide some overall thoughts about the model.

  • Findings – these are the issues (problems, opportunities, and desired results) that the consultant uncovers through a question and answer process, referred to by most as discovery.
  • Options – these are the different possibilities that the consultant proposes for solving the uncovered problems, seeking the opportunities, or achieving the desired results. A great consultant always includes, “Do nothing,” as an option.
  • Recommendations – this is the option (or options) that the consultant believes would be the best course of action for the customer. Making recommendations would usually include a list of advantages and disadvantages (pros/cons, positives/negatives, strengths/weaknesses, whatever you want to call them) of each options and a rationale for why the option(s) was(were) selected.
  • Decision – one of the various options or a variation of the options is selected for implementation.

A few observations about the model:

  1. Each incremental level increases the level of risk on the consultant and requires an higher degree of knowledge. Since risk and knowledge required are factors in setting price, an engagement to just collect findings will be less expensive than an engagement to present options and an engagement to present options will be less expensive than an engagement to provide recommendation.
  2. If you are making the decisions you are not a consultant, but what Peter Block would call a surrogate manager. He defines this as “a person who acts on behalf of or in place of a manager.” Surrogate manager-hood is not bad in and of itself, but it is way more risky and deserving of a premium price.
  3. Being a consultant or a surrogate manager is a strategic decision. Some people may choose to never enter the fray as a surrogate manager and only remain in the role of consultant. This leads to what could be another blog post – the paradox of consulting – which is that consultants are paid to not make decisions.
  4. It is critical to have a conversation early on with every customer or prospective customer as to the level of consulting in which they would like to engage you. Failure to do so causes not only pricing problems, but myriad of other problems that are out the scope of this post.
  5. I believe that all professionals are consultants of some kind. Doctors are consultants on the anatomy and physiology of the human body; lawyers, on the law and legal system; accountants, on accounting practices, etc.

I welcome any comments and any suggestions on a better term than my proposed levels.