I enjoyed reading Scott McLeod’s series on issues related to outside consultants. Scott does a great job pulling together lots of good ideas related to providing quality professional development. He references both the National Speakers Association’s Code of Professional Ethics and the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) Code of Ethics as two excellent resources for guiding professional development planning. (My colleague Chris O’Neal and I designed our presentation about professional development around the NSDC standards.) Scott also provides detailed tips for what organizers should look for in an outside consultant. His post is a good start in terms of thinking about how we can be most useful to the people with whom we are working. I would highly recommend all four posts.
Scott asked what we would add to his ideas. As someone who does a variety of consulting from public speaking to developing courses to facilitating planning, here’s my bottom line: The key to being or hiring a successful consultant is to have the utmost respect for those with whom you are working. That means respect for their time, certainly, but, more importantly, for their ideas and experiences.
I think Scott hinted at this in all four posts, but I want to mention it explicitly because I believe it needs to the starting point for any kind of professional development. All those standards and suggestions seem obvious if you begin from a posture of respect. You’re a learner along with the group. You’re there to address their needs and concerns. Certainly, you have knowledge and ideas to share but you couple that with a strong contextual understanding.
For me, the greatest indicator of respect relates to what Scott calls service:
We can charge whatever we think our time and expertise are worth (and the market will bear), but we should be providing something of value. Usually that means something practical that members of the organization can start using and acting upon tomorrow.
Offering something practical means that you have to take the time to learn about your participants because it is only by knowing about them that you can really make your work relevant to their lives and work.