Written by Julie Babb
Consultants are hired to drive specific business outcomes, but their role often seems vague and mysterious. The client’s employees may fumble through the engagement, wondering who these strangers are and why they’re really there. Consultants can struggle too, especially if they’re new to the job: It’s self-directed work that demands both openness and authority. What activities will be done? Who will be involved, and how can they be convinced to buy in? What’s the ultimate goal? Each project requires trust and a small leap of faith from everyone involved.
This is why—true story!—we ask every new Part and Sum employee to watch Netflix’s “Queer Eye” as part of their onboarding process. Aside from being great entertainment, this show is an incredible crash course in consulting fundamentals. Look, not every consulting team can compete on the level of the Fab Five because they’re iconic. But every consultant can learn from this tight-knit team. Imagine your client as a makeover target, and you could transform your business with these key lessons.
Even if they’re stumped, struggling, or stuck in a rut, nobody knows the client’s business or identity better than the client themselves. Each “Queer Eye” episode opens with the Fab Five reading a dossier about their client. They get to know the person’s backstory, including difficulties they’ve faced, things they enjoy doing and which friend or family member nominated them for the show. We know upcoming scenes will feature the Five putting their skills and experience to work, but this moment isn’t about them. It’s about gaining an authentic understanding of the person they’re going to meet, and what their unique needs, passions, and values are. This allows the guys to begin thinking strategically about the opportunities and challenges that may lie ahead.
Before diving into French tucks and increasing thread counts, the Fab Five embarks on a discovery phase. The client shows them around their house, answering their (many, many) candid questions. They are alert to discrepancies between what the client says and what they observe and ask for clarification when necessary. They immerse themselves in the client’s world and use active listening and observation to audit gaps across their categories of expertise: self-care, fashion, home, style, and cooking. Good consultants know the art of asking empathetic questions in order to drill down into what’s at stake and what people really want. Not only does this practice result in useful information, but it also starts to build a foundation of trust between consultant and client: The client feels seen and valued, not judged. It’s the difference between asking “Why did you ruin your hair?” and “What do you see when you look in the mirror?”
Sure, we’re professionals. But as consultants, we need to bring our whole selves to the job. That means having the confidence to share our unique perspectives, expert opinions and passions. The Fab Five march into that home in high heels, bold prints and cuffed tees, ready to laugh, cry and swap stories right along with their client.
Every person the Fab Five makes over has their own values and needs, just like every company has its own culture and business model. One size doesn’t fit all: the Five develop realistic solutions tailored to each person’s resources, ability and taste. Antoni gets flack from food snobs for some of his offerings, but he’s just being mindful of this rule. A single dad is never going to whip up a five-course meal on a weeknight. He needs a recipe that’s a step up from frozen nuggets, but that’s achievable given his current constraints. Likewise, a consultant needs to understand how far—and in what direction—to push their client. Then, they need to offer a plan that’s defined and prioritized in a way that represents incremental but measurable progress.
This is where the Fab Five truly shine. They’re unafraid to address emotional baggage head-on, and gently challenge their clients to confront their fears and insecurities.
Some of the techniques they use include: