A consultant is hired by clients to help the client improve something or some things and/or services. This is rather basic.  The ideal consultation works for all – the client (from the most senior members to the most junior members) and those who are served.  In the case of ECE programs, that would be administration, staff, families, and most importantly, children.

Usually, people at the top hire consultants to help fix things that people somewhere in the middle or even lower within the agency are not doing well. 

Sometimes, the people who hire the consultants really don’t understand why there’s a problem. They may be too many levels removed from the daily situation.  Sometimes, they don’t share the negative results of some evaluation with the staff.  The funding agency says hire a consultant to improve the scores, and they interview consultants.

Some would-be hirers see the problem and think a few hours of consulting will either solve it or set them on the road to solving it themselves. It’s so much like, “Come, Ms. Consulting Expert, visit our wonderful program that scored low in just this tiny area. You can fix this in a few hours or even less. We have great staff, and if you tell us what to fix, you can be off on your merry way.” Then consultants go there and see multiple problems that will need lots of time and effort to make real improvements.

Sharing what really needs to be done has scared off many a prospective client. Not sharing what really needs doing sets up the entire process for disappointment all around.

How should a consultant proceed?

Why, just wave the magic consultant wand, fix the stuff instantly, charge a tiny amount for wand maintenance, and get rave reviews in every possible way. What? The magic wand is in the repair shop? Oh dear. What now?

I’m writing these articles in my 19th year as the owner of a successful consulting practice. If you are a consultant, take a ride with me as we explore win/win/win ways to make consulting work well for all concerned.

For several years, the term “strength-based” has been used often.  What, exactly, does it mean?  It means literally, to focus and discuss what’s going well and what is working well for the situation and to bring about change from that perspective.  Here’s an example from athletics:

A runner has a coach.  After the race, the coach notes that the time is a full second better than the last time.  Then the coach points out that the runner made some sort of arm movement going around turns that could have slowed the time a little.  The runner wasn’t aware of it, and the coach schedules some sessions to videotape the runner and work on arm movements.

What was the main take-away from the runner/coach meeting?  The arm movement and what could be done to “fix” it.  The fact that the time actually improved over the last race was not the focus, although it was mentioned first.  This the old coaching model.  The focus is on the problem that needs improvement and how the problem gets fixed.  The runner comes away feeling that there is something wrong that needs fixing, not even remembering that there was an improvement in time.

After spending years working in the old coaching model, I’ve begun my journey on the strength-based road.  Know that the strength-based road takes longer.  No superhighway here.  Let’s go back to our runner.  Supposing the coach pointed out the better time and asked the runner something like, “How do you think your time improved?” or “What do you think contributed to the better time?”  “What can you practice to get this time again?”  The runner leaves this session proud of the improvement in time.

While watching (and taping) the practice for the next race, the coach may praise the time improvement – perhaps it’s the same time as the last time, so the coach would point out that the improvement that made it happen before is still working.  Then the coach may say, “Look at your arms here.”  The runner may say “I never thought about that. Maybe if I kept them a little straighter, the time would improve.” The coach says, “Great idea.  I have some tips that may help you with this.”

Yes, this takes a little longer, but the runner is now a participant in the solution, feels good about the proposed solution, and is much more likely to keep at it.

A strength-based focus can yield all sorts of great results, at work, and elsewhere.

Do try this at home, and please share how it goes.

Who ever thought that there were so many decisions to make when making a new website? First, you need a domain name.  Fortunately, that part was done.  I’ve had this domain name since early 2000. 

Then you have to research to find a host that’s offering what you want in a website, and you want to get one that offers help that you can actually reach (this one is a big deal – note that you have to pay for this help), and don’t be too proud to use the help like crazy.

The process includes writing stuff only to have to write it all over again. There are so many new things to learn – like how to make words show in lines that don’t act like new paragraphs with too much space in between, how to add pictures – how to make them the size you want and put them where you want.  I’m still working on this one! 

Make sure you save every step as you go or you lose hours of work. Yesterday’s help session had the helper show me something to change and wonder why we couldn’t see the change. Surprise!  He forgot to click the “update” button  so it had to be done again.  

What a lot of learning! But the thing I’m learning most is to push my old brain to its limits, nearly every day. What an exercise! 

The important message is that we keep learning. Exactly what we learn isn’t as important as that we are learning.  Learn. Then learn something else.  Then learn something else.  It’s a pattern – keep it up for at least 100 more years!

Consultants are in business to help their clients.  Program directors’ main job is to maintain full enrollment while making sure the program quality is the best it can be in all respects.  

Programs relate to families and children, consultants relate to clients.  No matter what we call the members of the relationship, the first part of the relationship is about connecting to the family member or client by name. Our name is an important part of our identity. If the person has an unfamiliar name, practice saying it over and over again until it’s right. And remember how to say it. Sometimes, I make little tips for myself so in between contacts, I don’t forget.

My own first name is Ellen. It starts my business email address: ellen@earlychildinfo.com and my main social email address starts with the letter E. While it’s not the most common first name, it’s a “common” name that shouldn’t be hard.

Yesterday, I was on the phone with a customer service/email/domain “consultant” who helped me fix up my email accounts. There are a few domains with emails attached to each. Since the prices for email addresses have risen, it was time to prune, move, and otherwise work on them. We were on the phone more than ½ hour, talking about all of the email addresses, some of them starting with “ellen” and some starting with “e”. With all of the deleting, moving, and keeping, the name “Ellen” had to have been said more than 50 times, and other emails starting with “e” close to the same number of times. While the “consultant”  was waiting to make changes happen, she told me how making connections with people was so important to her. I liked that.

A few minutes after the phone call, I got  the follow-up email she had told me about.  She sent it to my email address which started with “e”, with the correct account number and the correct phone number.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the greeting: “Hello Helen”!

Here’s part of my reply to her: “My name, as in every one of the emails we spoke about, is ELLEN, not Helen.”

Here’s a tip: The people in your life don’t usually notice when you get their name right, but they ALWAYS notice when you don’t.

Yours,
Ellen

 

Near the end of the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, the wizard reveals the balloon by which he intends to take Dorothy back to Kansas.  He says, “I, your Wizard par ardua ad alta, am about to embark upon a hazardous and technically unexplainable journey into the outer stratosphere to confer, converse, and otherwise hob-nob with my brother wizards” (Screenplay, 1939 Wizard of Oz – movie script by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Alan Woolf, based on the book by L. Frank Baum)
One time, I was preparing to go to an education conference.  A colleague asked what I do at these conferences, and I said “hob-nob with other wizards”.  The more conferences I attend and the more friends I make among other presenters, the more wizardly it feels. So I looked up some dictionary definitions of “wizard” and aside from magic and the maleness of distinguishing from witches, there are many great definitions including clever, excellent, amazing, brilliant, expert, and other really neat words. 
The NAEYC Professional Development Institute that year was about as full of wizards as any conference I’ve ever attended. Leaders in the field sat and learned in workshops given by other leaders in the field.  It was an amazing few days of learning. The last workshop I attended was about making blogs. So I came home and created this blog.  I hope you join me in this blogging adventure and that you find it fun and educational.