Breaking Barriers to Doing Corporate Consulting

Breaking Barriers to Doing Corporate Consulting

by Louis A. Perrott
"Today's most enterprising therapists are realizing that the most promising opportunities for new business lie outside of the healthcare system."
Filed Under: Practice Management


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Today's most enterprising therapists are realizing that the most promising opportunities for new business lie outside of the healthcare system. There, the people skills they honed with clinical populations can find countless new applications. Nonetheless, many established therapists, as well as current graduate students, go on seeking new clientele inside the healthcare marketplace. Developing new markets is the major challenge of therapists wanting to start up or remain in independent practice.

Lucrative business opportunities readily open when different segments of the marketplace are targeted. Corporate consulting represents one such major opportunity. Much contemporary corporate activity centers on technology issues, information processing, and creating business ecosystems. How well the necessary infrastructure works for optimizing these activities is rooted in the company's people. Daniel Goleman recognizes this in his work, Working With Emotional Intelligence, when he estimates that 90 percent of success in business leadership is directly attributable to "soft skills." People problems inevitably result when a company focuses too exclusively on technology skills.

Solving People Problems

Psychologists and counselors are eminently qualified to improve people skills in the work place. Therapists already have valuable knowledge and skills that can, with adaptation, be used to raise the emotional intelligence of company leaders, as well as to solve other business problems related to people. In order to successfully do so, there first are several major barriers through which clinicians must successfully break.

The first is re-conceptualizing the framework out of which they design and deliver consultative services. With clinical services, the major focus is upon understanding and relieving an individual client's personal suffering. To mistakenly view a company's people problems through this same framework of dysfunction and psychopathology will result in assigning medical diagnoses and starting psychotherapeutic interventions designed to remediate the individual pathology. In corporate work, only occasionally will the problem reside in a single person. Most frequently, the consultant seeks an understanding of how the organizational context motivates the employee's behavior and, conversely, of how the individual affects the company.
The business psychologist's emphasis is upon optimizing organizational results by altering people's behavior inside the organizational system.
The business psychologist's emphasis is upon optimizing organizational results by altering people's behavior inside the organizational system.

The conceptual framework includes any body of psychological knowledge that is relevant to the business problem at hand. The theory base for business psychology is the "the application of clinical psychology's traditional knowledge and skill base, modified and augmented by related knowledge bases (such as organizational development theory), to people working in business settings for the ultimate purpose of optimizing business performance. . . . The overall aim of business psychology is enhancing people processes and work performance—of individuals, teams, managers at all levels, and, ultimately, the entire business." (Perrott, Reinventing Your Practice as a Business Psychologist, p. 6,7)

Therapists-turned-consultants use their knowledge of people (not psychopathology) to enhance corporate performance.
Therapists-turned-consultants use their knowledge of people (not psychopathology) to enhance corporate performance. They use their own people skills to form and maintain multiple simultaneous relationships inside the company in order to bring about the desired organizational outcomes. Doing so is a departure from the typical therapist's clinical posture of detachment and reactivity, while focused on an individual person.

The second barrier is the sales barrier. If a consultant closes no sales, there are no opportunities to work. Opportunities to optimize company performance are created by sales of consultative services to companies. To create such opportunities, the sales barrier must be broken, and, to do this, the access issue must first be addressed: how to get into the company. Doors will be opened once a consultant has something of known value to contribute to the company. In order to design results-producing consultative services, therapists wanting to work in corporate settings must find ways for getting to know businesses from the inside, so as to learn about their common needs. This information provides the basis for designing value-adding consultative services. Regular reading of business-oriented publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Business Week teaches about the typical issues and problems businesses face and provides an ongoing resource for ideas about possible business solutions.

An excellent direct way to learn about corporate functioning is to take an administrative role in a corporate healthcare setting or, alternatively, accept a leadership work position in a non-healthcare corporate setting. A different means is vicarious learning through networking with people already employed in corporate settings. Joining service clubs, such as Rotary or Kiwanis, regularly brings together "meet and eat" gatherings of company people who are quite willing to discuss business issues openly. Yet another avenue for getting together with business people is active participation in Chamber of Commerce activities.

Once business issues become known and consultative solutions have been designed, active marketing approaches must then successfully create the means for actually setting foot inside businesses, so that sales relationships can be developed. Essentially, corporate consulting is a relationship business. Putting together effective promotional campaigns that establish attractive market positions is a fundamental step toward breaking the sales barrier. Regularly communicating with the business community about effective business psychology services that have been designed to fulfill corporate needs will establish the basis for eventually breaking the sales barrier.

quote:Closely related to selling is breaking the third barrier: that of relevance. Without creating a consultative service that has direct and positive impact on business performance, sales efforts for that product will go nowhere. The basis for repeatedly breaking the sales barrier is convincing companies how they will be better off after receiving business psychology services than they were before.
Aspiring consultants must use their organizational insights creatively to design an array of consultative services, each of which results in attention-catching business results.
Aspiring consultants must use their organizational insights creatively to design an array of consultative services, each of which results in attention-catching business results. A useful first exercise for a new consultant is to decide upon one or more very focused "starter services." Each is a narrowly targeted consultative service set up to fulfill some very specific business needs. The overall aim is to deliver the service quickly, producing business results that have large impact in small areas.

Case Example

One company has narrowed its field of choices for a newly created Team Leader position to two internal candidates. One is a young man of color in his late twenties who has been with the company four years. He seems bright, is articulate and well-liked by colleagues, and seems eager to learn. The other candidate is a woman in her early thirties who has been with the company seven years. She is vocal, an able problem-solver in her present assignment, ambitious, and widely admired. The company decision-makers are evenly split on whom to choose. Hearing about this dilemma, the enterprising consultant proposes using business psychology skills to assist the company solve this personnel problem. Through interview and administration of a brief battery of psychological tests, a profile of each candidate's strengths and limitations can be created and reported to the decision-makers. This information will provide a relevant, rational basis for the company decision-makers to use in deciding whom they will promote. To propose the sale, the consultant quickly arranges a meeting with several of the key decision-makers, in order to make a case for doing the assessment. In the sales presentation, the consultant emphasizes the benefits to the company of purchasing the service:

A.  the objectivity of the methods used;
B.  the advantages of having profiles of each candidate for comparison, rather than using subjective hunches; and
C.  the savings of company money and time resulting from making a data-driven choice.

After breaking the sales barrier, the business psychologist quickly begins actual delivery of the assessment. Arranging a meeting with the decision-makers allows inquiry into the specific job duties and responsibilities of the new Team Leader position, the characteristics of the work team, and, most importantly, the overall outcomes expected during the next year. In the hypothetical example here, the company is projecting bold team performance expectations and also expects that there will be considerable conflict of ideas within the team about how to achieve these goals. This high-powered work team is expected to become operational quickly. There will be little tolerance for inefficiencies or outcomes short of expectations. Excellent communication and outstanding problem-solving will be required, as well as the ability to lead a team swiftly through complex and ambiguous technical issues that could very suddenly and unexpectedly arise. After learning this, the consultant extracts the critical success factors for the new job and designs an assessment strategy to evaluate those areas. The consultant then conducts the managerial assessment with each candidate using structured interview techniques and psychometric instruments chosen to comply with ADA requirements.

One candidate's profile revealed a very restricted vocabulary, a repeated tendency to handle interpersonal conflicts through using minimizing and avoidance tactics, very high personal stress levels, and past leadership preferences for reliance on setting a strong personal example and use of verbal intimidation approaches during times of uncertainty. Which of the two candidates mentioned above would you guess had this profile?

The consultant reviews the two resulting candidate profiles with the company decision-makers, giving them the desired rational basis for deciding which candidate to select. Once they had the candidate profile outlined in the paragraph above, the decision-makers were readily able to decide that this was not the person they would promote into the new Team Leader position.
The company benefited here by not making a costly error in selecting a candidate who very likely would have fallen short of their expectations within the first year.
The company benefited here by not making a costly error in selecting a candidate who very likely would have fallen short of their expectations within the first year. The overall savings to the company based on lost team productivity, lowered team morale, possible loss of valued team employees, and use of additional management time to rectify the error later more than offsets the cost of the assessment. Only after the sales barrier was broken could there be an opportunity to successfully tackle the relevance barrier, and then deliver the services.


Therapists have developed considerable people expertise that has direct relevance in corporate settings. But business psychology does not consist of simply transplanting the delivery of psychotherapy inside corporate walls. In order for clinicians to produce valuable business results, their clinical knowledge and skills must first be adapted and channeled for focused use there. It must also be supplemented with additional knowledge about organizational functioning and corporate issues that go outside most therapists' traditional paradigms. As therapists becomes more proficient at breaking the three barriers outlined above, enterprising new markets for psychologically grounded consultative services will open up inside corporate settings. Designing, selling, and delivering business psychology services is the basis for establishing longer-term relationships with corporations that can readily result in repeated sales over many years.


Goleman, Daniel. (1998) Working With Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Perrott, Louis A. (1999) Reinventing Your Practice as a Business Psychologist. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc

Copyright © 2001 All rights reserved.
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Louis A. Perrott Louis A. Perrott, PhD is a past president of the Virginia Psychological Association and a co-founder of Peak Performance Consultation in Roanoke, Virginia. He gives training workshops on business psychology and coaches therapists who are transitioning into doing corporate consultations. His book, Reinventing Your Practice as a Business Psychologist, is available through Jossey-Bass Publishers, Inc. or may be purchased at a discount directly through him. Dr. Perrott may be reached by telephone at 540-989-8896 or by e-mail at

CE credits: 1

Learning Objectives:

  • Apply psychotherapy skills to the corporate context
  • Critique approaches to selling psychological services to business executives

Articles are not approved by Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) for CE. See complete list of CE approvals here