The final step in a well maintained consulting relationship is Decision. Not “decision” in the management sense of the term – but rather Decision to extend the process, continue to dig deeper into process improvement, or to terminate the existing project. Many times, this is the hardest phase for a consultant to maintain the lateral relationship of the situation. It is easy to vacillate between two extremes. On the one-hand, the client may become reliant on the consultant’s leadership in the project and organization. This is an unhealthy direction for future consulting opportunities, because the organization will begin to view the consultant as a surrogate manager. Once that line has been crossed, it is very difficult to recover to a place of lateral support.
Secondly, a the other extreme presents the hazard of over-separation or even resistance – passive-aggressive or overt. Instead of over-reliance, the conclusion of a project may have revealed vulnerabilities or gaps in process that the client feels the need to take care of internally. In either situation, it may be the most beneficial decision to terminate the contract relationship in order to preserve the client as opportunities to open different doors in the future may open.
If the door remains open for follow-on work or re-engagement in areas of the organization that were previously out of scope, there is always the possibility to continue within the organization for a long time! Throughout the lifecycle of the consulting engagement, the consultant is in a struggle for balance. Balance in the project’s scope, schedule and budget – yes. But even more, the consultant is required to balance the relationship. Maintaining trust and credibility, while never becoming so essential as to become a proxy manager.