Collaborative, Not Combative, Action Planning

by Sunitha Narayanan

"All the best work is done the way ants do things - by tiny untiring and regular additions."
~ Lefacadio Hearn

Should a consultant assume responsibility to present career ides and outline steps to reach career goals? It does seem an effective and quick way to complete core service elements and show the client, the worthiness of the consulting process. However, when some clients pass the burden of decision making to the consultant, the client's follow-up on their own action planning could be ignored unless monitored and encouraged by the consultant. How can a consultant achieve collaboration in action planning?

Readiness of Client to Take Ownership

The following situation demonstrates a need for better collaboration. A client's male spouse was offered career assistance as a relocation benefit for them both. Initial conversations with him focused on needs assessment, specifically exploring work values, skills and interests. The client expressed an interest and completed formal career assessments such as MBTI and Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory. The client and consultant invested considerable time reviewing assessment results to identify and prioritize career interest areas. Then the client demonstrated a lack of ownership by exhibiting little interest and follow-up with the ideas that were discussed. The consultant had spent considerable time researching these ideas. The client declined each idea generated for further research by the consultant.

Clearly the advice-centered approach was hindering, rather than facilitating the career exploration process. Not only was there confusion about the client's needs but he demonstrated a passive-aggressive approach to the process by ignoring the consultant's phone and email messages, denying that he had expressed an interest in the research materials compiled for him, commenting he was too busy to take a look at the materials and stating many times that he had changed his mind about his level of interest in a specific career area.

Taking time to reassess this unproductive situation resulted in generating the following actions:

  1. Encouraging the client to trust his instincts without relying completely on assessment results. This would help him organize information and act upon what he knew and recognized about his work values, interests and skills.
  2. Including a client checklist for each identified goal. Items included were:
        a.Did I willingly choose this goal? Why?

        b.Have I made a written commitment to this goal?

        c.How will I take responsibility for this goal?

      d.What values, skills and interests is this goal based on?
  3. Identifying practical steps to explore these goals. These objectives were measurable and helped the client plan how much time he would realistically devote to his plans. In one instance, this client decided to check out a work at home opportunity by reviewing information sent to him, writing down questions, analyzing the fit between the opportunity and his skills and interviewing an informational contact to gather information. Each of these objectives served as visible markers as it showed him where he was in relation to reaching his goal, in this case, researching the work at home opportunity completely before moving on to the next career idea on his list.

Revisiting the action plan helped the client and consultant. For the client, nailing down small steps helped him listen to his instincts and develop "his" way of finding solutions to the problems. For the consultant, backing off on advice helped with actively listening, synthesizing information and encouraging the client to "own" the career planning process.


Recognizing the importance of ownership on the client's part and their readiness to accept responsibility in creating an action plan is key to designing collaborative plans. These plans help clients become more aware of choices and opportunities and form a practical and supportive structure to take it beyond an idea. Specifically, such plans help clients by:

  • Recognizing that sometimes decisions can be difficult;
  • Giving them a vision of how things can be different, if not better;
  • Encouraging the belief that there is a way to creatively face obstacles.

Action plans build on the premise that benefits of change can outweigh the costs of making that change. Though time-consuming and full of unique challenges, writing action plans with clients can be an enriching process for both parties.

Sunitha Narayanan has masters degrees in Counseling and Higher Education. She offers career management services to individuals through her business Career Advantage, Ltd. Sunitha has previously published on topics such as managing transitions, exploring non-traditional strategies to job searching and developing networking relationships. She enjoys teaching career exploration classes, study skills classes and job search strategies in the local colleges. She can be reached at a.narayanan@fuse.net

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