ISPI’s Award of Excellence Program honors outstanding student and professional research. This award recognizes outstanding research in the field of Human Performance Technology or a related field such as Adult Education, Human Technology, Behavioral Psychology, or Vocational Education. William L. Solomonson, CPT, PhD, of Wayne State University will receive an Award of Excellence for Outstanding Student Research for his dissertation which investigated the role of factors contributing to trust in the client-consultant relationship. He will receive the award at THE Performance Improvement Conference Saturday, April 21, 2012.

A core competency required for a performance consultant to be effective is the notion of “partnering skill” and the ability to build trust with clients.  In this light, Solomonson explored the effect that perceived level of expertise, shared values, and the sharing of meaningful information have on trust in the client-consultant relationship. In the context of performance improvement, Solomonson determined much of the research effort has been placed on the “technical” aspects of performance rather than the human relationship experience that occurs in the client-consultant interaction. Focusing on the “relationship-side” of consultancy has particular relevance today with an increasing interest in performance consulting, as well as a lack of attention on the relational “partnering skill” aspects of consultancy.

Improving Contributions of Consultants
A focus on trust is one means of potentially improving the contributions of consultants who focus on training, instructional design, or performance improvement. However, the client-consultant relationship is not commonly empirically studied; much of the extant business management client-consultant literature is conceptual in nature.  Additionally, the buyer-seller relationship of the client and consultant is generally thought of as being representative of a relationship between firms rather than between people; this does not translate well on the interpersonal level.  Through his research, Solomonson attempted to bridge these empirical gaps.

In his study, Solomonson quantitatively measured using a post-test only randomized experiment in which participants were randomly assigned into one of eight groups. Participants were individuals from selected undergraduate level classes at Wayne State University’s Department of Communication, and Oakland University in the School of Education during the fall semester of 2010 and winter semester of 2011.  Participants were randomly assigned to one of eight scenario-based questionnaires which measured the effect of three manipulated variables – perceived level of expertise, shared values, and sharing of meaningful information – on trust as a mediator to relationship commitment. The ability to trust, the comparison level of the alternative, and dependence were measured as control variables.

Influencing Trust
The findings of Solomonson’s research suggest that PI consultants can pro-actively manage the relationships with their clients by focusing on the key factors that influence trust and thus ultimately affect overall relationship commitment. For example, Solomonson concluded that if we know that a client’s perception of a consultant’s level of expertise has an effect on trust, then a consultant can act pro-actively to reinforce and communicate those aspects of expertise that reflect a high level of technical competence and knowledge to the client.

Solomonson’s dissertation research and was completed in August, 2011, at Wayne State University under the advisement of Committee members Dr. Ingrid-Guerra Lopez (Chair) and Dr. James L. Moseley.