Each year management consultants in the US receive more than $2 billion for their services. A lot of money pays for impractical data poorly implemented recommendations. To reduce waste, customers need a better understanding of what management consultants can achieve. They need to ask more from such advisers, who in turn must learn to satisfy their expanded expectations. When there is clarity about the goal, both sides are more likely to deal with the commitment process satisfactorily.
While business-minded individuals typically possess a broad range of skills, with perhaps some specialties; changes within a business, in the broader economic climate, or other unforeseen circumstances can create a dire need that cannot be met with the existing skills within the business. In this scenario, employing a business consultant can provide the on-demand skill-set necessary to deal with the problem as well as an objective viewpoint that effectively focuses or leads the team.
Consulting is about building a relationship in which the consultant makes his their skills, knowledge, and experience available to a business in an advisory role, which can include implementation.
The keyword is implementation – the outcome of any consulting project must be implementable.
What can a consultant do for you?
As annotated by the Harvard Business Review, consulting is more than giving advice. there are many things consultants can do for you, but it all boils down to eight main purposes of consulting:
- Provide information
- Provide solutions to given problems / issues / challenges
- Conduct diagnostics and redefine problems / issues / challenges & opportunities
- Provide recommendations
- Assist or conduct implementation
- Build consensus and commitment around a corrective action
- Facilitate client learning
- Permanently improving organizational effectiveness
The first few are perhaps the most requested consulting services requested by clients. The last three are the mark of a more effective business consultant.
Why do organizations engage a consultant?
These are the 12 most common needs for consulting help:
- Temporary assistance
- Objective review
- Third-party request for problem / opportunity identification & resolution / realization
- Surviving a crisis
- Initiating change
- Obtaining funding
- Selecting key personnel
- In-house education
- Conflict resolution
- Executive assistance
- Government regulatory assistance
- Socioeconomic and political change
Moreover, of these, each need can be broken down into six parts:
- We must have specific skills
- We require knowledge
- We demand experience
- We will set a time-frame
- It’s necessary for the consultant to have frequently addressed our needs
- Objectivity is a necessity
What’s the role of the consultant?
Having defined a need for a business consultant, we then consider the consultant’s role in addressing these needs, and there are five:
In practice, the consultant’s project role is typically a combination of #2 (the Expert in the room) plus one of the others.
What type of consultant might we want?
There are four main types:
- Specialist – World-class capabilities in the selected area(s)
- Game Changer – Game-changing answers that no-one else can provide
- Vendor – Adequate performance + Low cost + No hassle
- Total Solution Provider – Total package from a reliable supplier
In practice, most small businesses require a type #1 or #2, occasionally a #3 (e.g., HR – psychometric testing) and rarely a #4 (these are the big firms, e.g., IBM, Accenture, used by the largest organizations).
As you can see, there are many ways in which a consultant can offer benefits, and there is much to consider. There are many negative consultant stories, and I contend that they are the result of not giving these considerations careful attention.
Providing More Emphasis on the Consulting Process
Increased consensus, commitment, learning, and future efficiency are not offered as a substitute for more managerial objectives, but as desirable outcomes of an efficient streamlining process. The extent to which they can be built on methods to achieve more traditional goals depends on the understanding and skill of consulting relationship management. These goals have received more attention in the organizational development literature and the behavioral guides’ writings than in management consulting. However, behavioral goals can best be achieved when combined with more traditional approaches. So customers have the right to expect that all management consultants, whatever their expertise, will be sensitive to human relations and processes and know how to improve the organization’s ability to solve future problems as well as sustainability.
Your first decision is to decide whether or not to engage a consultant to address the needs of your business. It’s not a final decision, and many may feel that they can address the needs of a business with their own resources and that’s OK. The decision really means we are going to move to selection, which is where the final decision on engaging a consultant is made.
The idea that the success of consulting depends solely on analytical expertise and the ability to present persuasive reports is losing ground, partly because there are more people today in organizations with the necessary analytical techniques than in the bubble years of strategic consulting. Gradually, the best management consultants define their goal not only to recommend solutions but also to help institutionalize a more efficient management process.
This trend is significant for consulting firms because it requires process skills that need more emphasis on recruiting companies and developing team policies: This is no less significant for managers who not only need expert advice but also practical assistance in improving the future performance of the organization.
When managers understand the broader range of goals that excellent advice can help achieve, they will choose consultants more wisely and expect more value from them. So as customers learn how to express new needs, good consultants learn how to handle them.