Consulting That Matters

A Handbook for Scholars and Practitioners

by Jennifer H. Waldeck (Volume editor) David R. Seibold (Volume editor)
©2016 Textbook XX, 370 Pages


Each year, thousands of consulting contracts are awarded by organizations to experts who help them with challenges involving people, processes, technologies, goals, resource allocation, decision making, problem solving, and more. These experts – consultants – diagnose problems, recommend solutions, facilitate interventions, and evaluate outcomes that are often related to human communication. Some consultants are academicians skilled in both doing and interpreting research for clients; others are practitioners with little use for research and theory. Driving all of the ideas showcased in Consulting That Matters: A Handbook for Scholars and Practitioners is the premise that sound theory and research are critical to consulting success, and should be the blueprints for successful organizational transformation. Thus, this book is for all types of consultants, including the very best who are at the top of their games and those who believe theory and research belong in ivory towers, not business settings. Featuring a «who’s who» of preeminent communication scholars/consultants, each author shares frameworks, strategies, and examples from their own diverse experiences, all grounded in rich, substantive theory and research. The volume offers even the most skilled and experienced consultants a range of alternative approaches, paradigms, and competencies to build their credibility and make them more valuable to their clients in a dynamic, ever-evolving business climate.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Praise for Consulting That Matters
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Foreword
  • Part One: Creating a Consulting Identity That Matters
  • Chapter One: How Communication Theory and Research Make Consulting Matter
  • Chapter Two: The Communication Scholar’s Unique Perspective on Organizational Consulting: Personal Reflections and a Design Approach
  • Chapter Three: Many Paths: The Role of the Consultant’s Paradigms, Values, and Ethics
  • Part Two: Creating a Consulting Experience That Matters: The Groundwork
  • Chapter Four: The Importance of Context, Situation and Setting in Consulting
  • Chapter Five: Building an Evidence-Based Practice: Conducting Valuable Needs Assessments
  • Chapter Six: Collecting and Using Narratives That Matter
  • Chapter Seven: Planning and Proposing Consulting Work
  • Chapter Eight: Communication Skills for Consulting Excellence
  • Part Three: Facilitating a Consulting Experience That Matters
  • Chapter Nine: A Collaborative Approach to Examining and Addressing Organizational Challenges: The Coordinated Management of Meaning as Practice
  • Chapter Ten: Transformative Team Interventions: Using the Transformative Mediation Framework for Team Building
  • Chapter Eleven: Facilitating Team Development in Embedded Organizational Work Groups
  • Chapter Twelve: Facilitating Training: When Organizational Members’ Skills Need to Be Addressed
  • Chapter Thirteen: How & Why Technology Matters in Consulting & Coaching Interventions
  • Chapter Fourteen: Providing Research Services for Clients
  • Part Four: Briefs and Case Studies in Consulting That Matters
  • Chapter Fifteen: Consulting in the Healthcare Context: A Case Study of the Community Liaison Project
  • Chapter Sixteen: Reaching for Big Data: Using Analytics to Address Organizational Challenges
  • Chapter Seventeen: Championing NOV Ventures: Consulting in Competitive, Corporate Contexts
  • Chapter Eighteen: A Delicate Balance: When the Researcher is also an Interventionist in Healthcare Settings
  • Chapter Nineteen: White Shirts, Blue Shirts: A Case Study of Leadership Development Consulting for Law Enforcement
  • Chapter Twenty: Consulting in the Educational Context: Serving as an External Program Reviewer
  • Chapter Twenty One: The Graying of the Organization: Intergenerational Communication Consulting
  • Contributor Bios
  • Index

← viii | ix → 

Each year, thousands of consulting contracts are awarded by organizations to experts that help them with challenges involving people, processes, technologies, goals, resource allocation, decision making, problem solving, and more. These experts—consultants—diagnose problems, recommend solutions, facilitate interventions, and evaluate outcomes. Many times, these consultants are academics with some special expertise in the area of the organization’s concerns; other times, they are employees of large or small professional consulting firms who do this type of work on a full-time basis. Although consulting is often associated with the “corporate world,” consultants also provide consulting services to federal, state, and local governments; nonprofit organizations; healthcare facilities; educational institutions; start-up firms; and those enterprises specializing in creative, technical, intellectual, and manufacturing work.

Over the past thirty years, the editors of this volume, who are college professors, have engaged in a variety of consulting activities that have enriched our teaching and scholarship in significant ways. Simultaneously, we have encountered colleagues who resisted consulting because they did not view it as an intellectually enriching activity, and full-time practitioners who sought greater credibility and substance in all they did. The former group failed to realize the potential of the reciprocal relationship between scholarship and action. The latter group wanted to do what they were doing, but better. Whether they were delivering training, writing curriculum, developing leaders, building teams, designing effective systems ← ix | x →and processes, mediating conflict, helping organizations facilitate change, or any number of other activities, these professionals expressed a hunger for consulting frameworks that were grounded in some evidence pointing to their appropriateness or potential for positive outcomes. The first editor of this volume, Jennifer Waldeck, for example, has partnered with two professional consulting firms that were interested in a research-based approach to performance improvement. She introduced them to the classic and state-of-the-art findings and theoretical perspectives for better understanding the types of challenges their clients faced, and which guided the generation of solutions and productive plans.

In our view, theory and research are the blueprints for successful action within organizations. Believing strongly in this premise, and facing a scarcity of literature pointing to the value of a scholarly approach to consulting with respect to organizational problems, strategy, and opportunities, the origins of this project took shape. We knew that if we could assemble the right group of scholar/practitioners to write about their work and the issues associated with consulting from a research and theoretically based perspective, we could shed light on the reciprocal relationship between scholarship and the applied practice of consulting. We believed we had an opportunity to influence the thinking of both scholars and full-time practitioners that consulting can matter in innumerable ways when this approach is taken. The authors represented in this volume, and the manner in which we have assembled and organized their work, speak to both the ways in which consulting matters. These authors have a vast expanse and depth of both knowledge and experience. They write with conviction and eloquence, using plenty of real examples drawn from their own and others’ experiences. They claim the critical importance of using research and theory in one’s consulting work, and provide ample evidence with compelling illustrations from a wide variety of organizational types.

Further, the scholar-consultants featured here demonstrate the importance of careful observation and critical analysis of the environments in which they consult, and the constant application of ethical frames for determining how to proceed or whether to continue the consulting relationship at all. Numerous authors in this book share stories of declining or ending (potentially lucrative) consulting engagements based on mismatched values and beliefs or conflicting ethical concerns.The accounts here demonstrate the necessity of a healthy respect for how consulting actions and outcomes impact all stakeholders in a system, from front-line employees to upper management to customers, clients, and vendors (and everyone in between).

The authors’ chapters also illuminate how their collaborations with their clients are typically interactive in a classic communicative and sociological sense; the nature of the relationships among consultants and members of their client organizations are the foundations of all they are able to accomplish in their ← x | xi →work together. This rigorous and collaborative approach to consulting ensures it addresses actual (rather than superficial or perceived) organizational challenges, increases the likelihood of success, and provides consultants with justification for what they do and why they do it. Working from a solid theoretical framework and thoughtfully allowing empirical knowledge to guide our decisions during consulting makes consultants credible, effective, and valuable to the organizations which seek their help.

Thus, across four parts and 21 chapters, this volume provides both full-time practitioners and scholars interested in exploring the applied implications of their expertise with in-depth exposure to:

More specifically, Part I, Creating a Consulting Identity That Matters, discusses a range of issues for scholar-consultants to examine:

← xi | xii →The chapters in Part I offer an introduction and framework to the importance of developing an epistemological paradigm for consulting work; working from a theoretical perspective; appreciating and using a wide range of methodological approaches and a working knowledge of the scientific method; as well as the ability to read, interpret, and draw upon theory and research at all stages of the consulting process.

Part II, Creating a Consulting Experience That Matters: The Groundwork, addresses issues critical to:

Additionally, Chapter 6 offers advice on how to plan consulting based on what the consultant learns through a careful, systematic needs analysis. These chapters encourage readers to consider the importance of designing and making persuasive, action-oriented recommendations to clients. Part II concludes with a chapter that explores the communication skills necessary for credible, professional, ethical consulting that results in measurable impact.

Part III, Facilitating a Consulting Experience That Matters, investigates a range of consulting interventions and the challenges and opportunities each presents to facilitators and clients in the areas of:

Finally, Part IV contains a series of brief essays and cases which illustrate the concepts, methods, and issues raised in Parts I–III. Each essay focuses on a highly specialized type of consulting or a specific project, and describes the context or client, the process, intervention, and evaluation methods. Each author gives special attention to unique challenges, theoretical considerations that frame or aid the ← xii | xiii →specific type of consulting in it, and how research findings can help guide what to do and how to do it.

We are indebted to the willing experts—friends and colleagues—who shared their time, talent, and experiences within these pages. The conversation concerning the relevance of theory to practice is not a new one; but we view the voices here as incredibly articulate and important for advancing that conversation. The insights contained in this volume expand the reach and usefulness of what we publish in our academic journals to the action of what happens within organizations. Further, these chapters speak to how our activities within organizations inform scholarship. And most importantly, they illustrate how the reciprocal relationship between scholarship and practice facilitates positive change for organizations and the lives of their members. And when this happens, we have engaged in consulting that matters.

Jennifer H. Waldeck

Chapman University

Orange, CA

David R. Seibold

University of California, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | xv → 


Consulting That Matters: A Handbook for Scholars and Practitioners

In the title, Consulting That Matters: A Handbook for Scholars and Practitioners, the editors clearly identify their audience as both researchers and practitioners. Their premise is that the two roles, being an academic researcher and being a consultant, should be merged. The editors take the approach that using research and theory in consulting practices is critical. They claim that “working from a solid theoretical framework and thoughtfully allowing empirical knowledge to guide our decisions during consulting makes consultants credible, effective, and valuable to the organizations that seek their help.” This makes perfect sense and prepares the reader for an examination of theoretical frameworks used by consultants that may not be obvious without the scholar/practitioner revealing them.

Consulting is the application of organizational communication principles and theories to real-world problems. The fact that many of the most published organizational communication researchers also serve as consultants may not be well known. This book has asked a number of authors to describe how their research informs their consulting practices.

In an edited volume the reader looks first at the premise of the book and then at the collection of authors assembled to address that theme to determine if the book will successfully meet one’s needs. In this book the theme is clear and the authors are well-known researchers who have years of experience as consultants. The authors are able to deliver what the editors have asked for: writing about the theoretical perspective they use in their consulting work, using a wide range of ← xv | xvi →methodological approaches, and applying these findings to the stages of the consulting process. So from this admittedly superficial review of the book it definitely meets these two criteria for a successful book.

Looking beyond those two initial criteria and reading the chapters the reader will find much more that makes this book useful to both scholars and practitioners. Part I includes the two editors (David Seibold and Jennifer Waldeck) and a third author (Joann Keyton) all of whom write from a personal perspective. The questions they ask are ones they have encountered in their own consulting work. Waldeck makes the argument that theory and research make consulting better. She traces the history of consulting by starting with one of the most widely known scholar/practitioners, Kurt Lewin. She also mentions the National Training Laboratories and acknowledges Charles Redding, the first scholar/practitioner in the field of organizational communication. He led the way for many others in the field of organizational communication and deserves our recognition. I was pleased to see her give even slight reference to some of the historical underpinnings of this field. I would add an additional reference that should be mentioned: the American Society for Training and Development (now the Association for Talent Development), which for many years produced some of the best consulting tools as well as a journal addressing issues in training and consulting.

Waldeck does an excellent job of arguing for the relevance of consulting to conducting research. Academics have often claimed that their research informs and enriches their teaching. Waldeck successfully argues that consulting informs one’s research as well as teaching, and makes both processes stronger and more relevant. I absolutely agree with her premise. If the reader is looking for justification for consulting from a theoretical base you will find it here.

Seibold identifies a number of communication theories that are directly relevant to the work of a consultant. His review of these theories, and the use of his own personal cases, convinces the reader that these theories do indeed inform how he practices the art of consulting.

In the last section of Part I, which frames the discussion for subsequent chapters, Keyton provides some basic definitions of consulting which are necessary for the reader to understand exactly what kind of activity is being examined in this book. What Keyton does in this chapter is repeated throughout the book: she cites personal examples of actual cases she was involved with. These actual examples are much more helpful than the typical hypothetical scenes the reader encounters in other books. She gives just enough detail so the reader understands the problem and Keyton’s approach to solving it. Her discussion of the paradigms of consulting is especially useful to readers who are trying to identify what their own approach might be. What is particularly refreshing is her honest appraisal of how one’s paradigm may not allow the consultant to see the whole organizational problem.

← xvi | xvii →In Part I of the book these three authors clearly establish what the reader should expect to follow: detailed explanations of consulting approaches and a wide variety of consulting challenges. Personal lived experiences in such diverse organizations as media companies, healthcare settings, law enforcement, and higher education are woven throughout.

Once the consultant fully understands the theoretical framework from which she wants to operate then a careful analysis of the organization’s needs must follow. Understanding everything about the context of this particular organization is discussed in depth by Pettegrew; conducting a client needs assessment is detailed in Jorgensen’s chapter; and collecting rich data through carefully constructed focus groups is proposed by Plax, Waldeck, and Kearney. The last two chapters in the second part of the book are very practical: how to write a proposal (Waldeck, Plax, and Kearney) and what communication skills the consultant needs (Beebe). It is surprising how many times the communication consultant does not practice what he preaches.

In Part III we begin to get actual examples of the use of theories in consulting. Coordinated management of meaning (Sostrin); transformative mediation (Folger); team development interventions (Seibold); and research services (Boster) are chapters which demonstrate to the reader, in very understandable ways, how a theoretical approach informs the consulting activity. Two chapters provide practical techniques for consulting: training techniques (Houser); and technology in consulting (Stephens and Waters).

Finally, Part Four features detailed case studies of consulting projects. These case studies are rich with illustrations of consulting in particular contexts. Each case study identifies challenges in unique settings: healthcare (Kreps, Pettegrew), the corporate environment (Daly), law (Ross and Waldeck), and education (Cody). Two other topics of interest are working with big data (Barbour, Faughn, and Husband) and workplace ageism (McCann).

This is not a book one would read cover to cover. Rather the reader might want to read the overview and then select those chapters that have a particular relevance to situations being faced. I would predict that the reader will return to this book over and over as those situations change.

What I like most about this book is that it gives you a wide variety of perspectives combined with actual consulting cases. These cases reveal a great deal about how each author approaches organizational problems. While the reader’s approach may differ there is something to be learned from each author’s perspective. And that is what reading this book should do: show the reader how communication theory informs practice and how these authors practice what they preach. I found it to be informative, insightful, and meaningful to my own practices.

← xvii | xviii →When I wrote The Consultant’s Craft I was trying to open up the field of consulting and provide a detailed explanation for those who wanted to engage in this activity. I wanted to explain how one might go about consulting from a communication perspective. What these authors have done is provide theoretical underpinnings for many of the approaches I described in my own book. Reading these chapters helped me articulate my own consulting approach. I commend this reading to you.

In the foreword to my book, Charles Redding said: “As members of organizations, who among us can honestly report having never endured some sort of damage associated with such phenomena as insensitive supervision, confusing instructions, fruitless meetings, deceptive announcements, vicious defenses of ‘turf’… scapegoating memoranda, clumsy explanations, paucity of information, conflicting orders, ambiguity (both intentional and unintentional), worship of inane regulations, refusal to listen to bad news…? (Space limitations prohibit a complete inventory of evils).” The field of communication should be the place where people turn to meet these challenges. If a researcher really wants to test his theory he should go into the field. Try it out with organizational members whose livelihoods depend on how well they communicate instead of testing theories on college sophomores.

The authors in this book have done just that. They have tested their own approaches developed in the privacy of their academic offices. Those tests have occurred in organizations where conflict and tension abounds and where the consequences of action may be quite dramatic. Congratulations to these authors who choose to share with the reader exactly what goes on when a communication consultant is asked to “fix things.”

Sue DeWine

President Emeritus

Hanover College

Hanover, Indiana


← xviii | 1 →PART ONE


XX, 370
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Contracts Consultants Freelancers
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XX, 370 pp.

Biographical notes

Jennifer H. Waldeck (Volume editor) David R. Seibold (Volume editor)

Jennifer H. Waldeck (PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara) is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Strategic and Corporate Communication at Chapman University. She has published over 50 books, research articles, and chapters. Over the past 25 years, she has provided consulting services in the automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, education, financial services, and real estate sectors. David R. Seibold (PhD, Michigan State University) is Professor and Vice Chair of Technology Management (College of Engineering), Professor of Communication by courtesy (Division of Social Sciences), and Director of the Graduate Program in Management Practice, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Author of more than 140 books, articles and chapters, he has consulted widely for nearly 40 years with corporations, new ventures, health care systems, and nonprofit organizations.


Title: Consulting That Matters