To define consultancy work is to differentiate it from more conventional forms of management. A consultant’s work begins when part of an organization’s strategy, structure, processes or systems fail to deliver the necessary levels of performance.
Consultants are employed to close the performance gap and their contribution might involve a total solution or the provision of some form of specialist technical support for an agreed period.
The consultant’s involvement in a project can therefore be of a short- or long-term nature. The consultant’s role is to assist their client without taking over control of the problem.
Good consultancy involves providing advice in such a way that it enhances the client’s ability to solve their future problems and challenges.
You in effect leave something behind – an improved capability. A key reason why the role has so much potential for helping managers operating in flatter structures with empowered workforces.
Invariably a consultant’s work also involves the management of change. Whilst having to influence a client and a situation to get things done differently you must achieve this in such a way that your client becomes fully committed to the solution.
Being able to influence clients without any formal executive power is one of the defining characteristics of the role.
Successful consultants do not rely on overt authority or control to succeed. Instead, they rely on their high levels of expertise and influencing skills to persuade people to move to action.
The beginning points of the journey described in this blog is to reflect on the role and importance of consulting, from both the internal and external perspectives.
At the same time, it is helpful to review the practices, changing expectations, and new requirements for these important areas.
Most External consultants are:
• Capable of developing a sense of dependency from their clients – ‘we cannot function without you now’.
• Employed for a fixed period to work on a specific client problem.
• Potentially able to get the full attention of senior managers more easily – clients tend to value more what they have to pay for.
• Presented as experts – they have specialist expertise and experience that is not present in the organization. This is often combined with an extensive knowledge of either specific or different industries which clients find very attractive.
• Generally, highly motivated and committed people who display high levels of energy to their work and clients. And whilst many are paid lots of money for doing this, their motivation and commitment is often to their work and clients first and their pay cheque second.
• Not always conversant with their client’s business. Thus, the client may have to pay for the consultants to learn about their business in the initial stages of a project. This can be expensive.
• A flexible resource – the organization is not burdened with long-term costs when the work is finished the consultants leave. Although in some organizations this never seems to happen!!!
• Independent – this is of course debatable – given that someone is going to be signing a bill.
• Often investing in new approaches and methodologies – they must have something new to offer clients.
• Not always required to live with the consequences of their work.
• Not always being entirely honest when they say, ‘we’ve done this!’ What they often mean is that ‘we haven’t but we have really great people and expertise, and we are really confident we will find a solution’.
• In a business themselves – they are selling people and time and are interested in consultant utilization and profit maximization.
Most Internal Consultants are:
• Employed full time by the organization.
• Likely to understand the overall business better than external consultants.
• Sometimes more knowledgeable that external consultants. You should know your business and industry extremely well. You may also have developed an approach or methodology that is ahead of any external consultancy group.
• Normally part of a specific function – Information Technology, Training and Development, Finance, Business Development, Internal Audit.
• Aware of the right language and culture of the organization. You know how things work and how to get things done.
• Able to identify with the organization and its ambitions – as employees you have a big emotional commitment.
• Liable to being taken for granted or lacking the credibility of some external consultants.
• Prone to being too emotionally involved in an organization – thus perhaps influencing your ability to be truly objective.
• Required to live with the consequences of their advice – you are still around long after the external consultants have left.
• Able to spread their knowledge and experience throughout the organization – you can enhance your organization’s overall capability.