There are plenty out there that are bad, really bad – so-called “consultants” that wear the right suits, say the right things, claim experience beyond their years, but who ultimately give the profession a bad name. They parade their “skills” and expertise in front of the client with no real proven substance or testimony to validate their claims. Solutions that are provided are often implemented poorly, with the client feeling that they have wasted their money. Consultants are subsequently viewed as lower life-forms, with distrust marking their relationships.
With due respect to truly great consultants, the notion of business consultation carries a lot of negative baggage. Inter alia, this could include:
- Anxiety-based relationships – clients being concerned that a consultant will talk them into a solution that is not really right for them or that they will end up over-paying. Consultants need to sell or they won’t make their budget and subsequently won’t meet their needs.
- Clients not getting their needs met – for the clients, not getting what they want is tremendously frustrating. Illusive, arrogant and ignorant consultants don’t really understand the needs or even worse – they don’t care.
- Dysfunctional selling/buying practices – “requests for proposals” and “going out on tender” practices are often in place to guard against corruption or other “incestful” behaviours and, as such, frequently don’t get to the kernel of the client’s needs. The consultant has to fill out hundreds of questions, is not allowed to meet anyone within the company to talk through needs, has to respond in two weeks, even though the client problems have been developing over many years and is not allowed to do anything specific to differentiate him/herself from others, but just has to follow the rules for fear of disqualification.
From time to time, however, businesses do need help – production or distribution processes need to be tweaked, employees need to be re-focused, re-energised or re-deployed, the corporate strategy might need to be re-worked or customer service needs to be stepped up a gear or two. Bringing in outside expertise might well be part of the solution to increased performance, productivity and subsequently, better results. In such cases, businesses should take care to find a consultant who exhibits the following characteristics:
- A relentless quest to understand – great listening and observation skills to get to grips with the client’s prevailing business culture and leadership style, performance and production metrics and the needs and desires of the client’s customers.
- Experience within a variety of market disciplines – consultants who have worked within many different market segments usually develop more comprehensive and creative solutions than those who just have industry-specific knowledge.
- Ability and desire to dialogue with the most senior people, be influenced by them and influence them – all sponsors and decision-makers need to be met in order to formulate a solution that will meet everyone’s needs exactly. The consultant may have to deal with “gate-keepers” who prevent access to more senior people – meetings with these senior people, however, are essential for budget sign-off and buy-in to the proposed solution.
- Analytical ability in relation to organisational effectiveness – all parts of the organisation operate in relation to other parts – they exist in an organisational ecosystem. Applying systems thinking principles helps everyone understand the effects of the changes and impact that the proposed solution will make.
- Ability to identify and deal with constraints – What has stopped the organisation from successfully resolving these issues before now? What, if anything, might prevent the successful implementation of this solution from going forward? Are there any political, ego, operational or power-based issues that might derail any proposed solution? Is there sufficient budget for the proposed solution?
- Ability to co-create solutions with clients – co-created solutions empower the client and facilitate ownership and sustainability of the solution.
Great consulting produces very specific business improvements and results for the client. These improved results, in turn, offer testimony to the character and competency of the consultant. A client at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force – great consultants see themselves as influencers and feverishly focus on helping business improve their results.