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Maximizing Consultant-Client Partnerships

SLA 2014 Vancouver Preconference Workshop Report

By Ilene Strongin-Garry, Manager
Knowledge Management & Sharing Culture Champion, IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group)

At SLA’s 2014 annual conference, colleagues Cindy Shamel  ( and Ulla de Stricker ( teamed up to present a preconference workshop titled “Maximizing Consultant-Client Partnerships”.  In it, they shared with attendees the many ways in which information professionals may enter into client relationships that go well beyond traditional roles of service provider and service recipient.

In a discussion format – participants were grateful to be spared the PowerPoint! – they led a wide ranging conversation shedding light on the opportunities for and benefits of building partnerships with clients (regardless whether money changes hands).  Participants had the opportunity to relate their own experience and to ask questions about the specific characteristics and behaviors associated with partnerships.

The handout Shamel and de Stricker used to structure the session set the stage by declaring:

Key characteristics of the consultant-client relationship are related to the very nature of influence as opposed to control:

  • We can offer insight and expertise, but we cannot get invested in the decisions of clients
  • We are in no position to direct; we can but recommend: It’s a fine line!
  • We are responsible for guiding clients toward their objectives
  • We cannot begin to offer our guidance until the clients have recognized it is available

From that foundation, they covered several major topics including:

  • How the need for assistance is discovered by clients and how we must therefore communicate what we can do for them
  • Constructing the framework for collaboration: How understanding what the client values supports the definition and discussion of who does what in the project undertaken so that the negotiation about scope and effort is productive
  • Handling surprises and new discoveries during the project and managing the associated communication
  • Dealing with potential anxiety on the part of the client’s staff members
  • Wrapping up the project and using its successful completion as an instrument to set up new partnerships

All these topics are closely interrelated, making the session dynamic and lively because each point made brought up new ones from participants applying it to their own situations.  Thus, we got to hear about how a particular scenario plays out in private and public sectors including academia.  It was instructive to hear about the successes of others – and to hear the instructors being open and honest about the fact that information professionals are NOT ALWAYS successful in their efforts to set up collaborative partnerships with their clients (for any number of reasons).  Their attitude is that it is wise to apply one’s efforts where they may be expected to do some good.


Should the Shamel and de Stricker session be offered again, attendance is highly recommended!



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