From Consulting to Coaching, what’s the difference for the client?

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.” Niels Bohr

In order to resolve complex problems, organisations often hire experts for help.

When I am such expert, very early in the engagement I explain how I can help resolve the problem they have in a few different ways.

What I tell them is that I can provide my service at three different levels:

  1. Coaching, where I help the people i coach ask the right questions, find the answers within themselves and resolve the problem.
  2. Mentoring, where I use a combination of coaching, training and also offer some options that might help resolve the problem .
  3. Consulting, where I either solve the problem as individual contributor (doing) or give instructions in order to solve the problem (telling)

The idea is that the paying client will decide what service level he requires, but the decision is not very straight forward if I only provide the three definitions above.

Lately I have found useful using a new approach (new to me) to help my clients make the right choice. With this approach, I show the impact of each of the different levels of service on “things” paying clients care about.

I use three simple visualisations, if you think they can help you, feel free to use them. If you have another interesting visualisation you found useful, please share it with me.

Future dependence on my service


Through this view the client will be able to see how one approach is going to create a dependence on my service to be continued in the future, while the opposite is going to remove completely the need for my service. This is useful for clients to verify what fits better with their long term strategy on dealing with problems similar to the ones I am helping resolve.

Time to Resolution:


Through this view I highlight the impact of the approach on the time that it will take to resolve the problem I have been hired for. This will help the customer make a decision based on the urgency of the problem. The more urgent the more to the left we will go.

Resistance to Change


This view in my opinion is extremely important because it is not always obvious to my clients but has massive impact on the organisation’s ability to deal with the result of my work.

If I am a specialist working on my own (doing) i won’t have any resistance as I am the one that is changing to resolve the problem. If I have to tell other people how to change to resolve a problem by giving instructions (telling) I am very likely going to be told “go away!”. If I exercise power to apply the change, things won’t be much better as people will do what I say but on a spectrum from unhappy compliant to angry saboteur. If I help people find the right way to change for the better, I will acquire many allies that will be invested in making change happen and most importantly sustain it in the long run.


13 thoughts on “From Consulting to Coaching, what’s the difference for the client?

  1. I like this, but consulting doesn’t have to inflict ‘resistance’. For example, I do a lot of consulting,and in most cases, I only recommend changes after I’ve worked with the teams so they understand why I make my recommendations. I think it is in the ‘how’ you go about doing it.

    • Thanks for your feedback Janet. I purposely have a continuous line from consulting to mentoring and coaching. There are different shades between consulting and mentoring and chances are what you do has both connotations. Maybe consulting is not the right name in my visualisation.

  2. Love this post, I wish I had read it about 12 months ago when I was setting out on my test coaching journey. If I had presented this model I think the teams I have worked with could have better understood what I was trying to achieve from the outset. Some teams thought that I was simply there to fix their problems (consultant) but I saw my place as a mix of mentor & coach. I met resistance to change because the team wanted me to do the work while I wanted to coach them to be able to achieve their goals themselves with my guidance.

  3. I’m really impressed with this article, especially the simple and easy to understand info graphics. From my personal perspective I would even say that I’ve met resistance even in coaching due to internal bias from the ‘client’ because the solution goes against something within their value set.

    that being said i too need to Agree with Janet’s comment that ‘why’ and its power can not be under estimated.

    I hope its okay with you in case I reference some of your graphics because fundamentally … their good! 🙂

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