What do you think of when you hear the word “consultant”?
Does it conjure up images of suits, running around an office putting together flashy PowerPoint presentations that run into an unconscionable number of slides? Spotty associates re-gurgitating information you’ve given them, unable to produce anything truly original?
That’s certainly the stereotype!
Needless to say, while this has been the experience of many, it hardly does justice to the true expertise the majority of consultants have.
Before I address the question in the post title, why don’t I tell you who I consider myself to be as a consultant?
I see myself as an independent expert with a specific set of skills, which I put to good use on behalf of my clients. In my case, those skills relate to business analysis and efficient change management, and my use of those skills has a valuable impact on my clients’ organisations, and helps them achieve their goals in a variety of ways.
Those ways usually involve one, or a combination, of the following: identifying opportunities to grow and improve their businesses; making relevant recommendations with respect to those opportunities; creating new business processes or re-engineering existing ones; modelling the business’s operations, either with a view to making them more efficient or assessing how incoming changes of any kind could have an impact; facilitating the smooth implementation of new projects, systems or ways of working; to name a few.
So who are consultants, really, and what do they bring to the party?
In his book The Management Consultant: Mastering The Art of Consultancy, business adviser Richard Newton defines a consultant as an independent advisor who adds value by helping managers identify and achieve beneficial change appropriate to their situation. I won’t attempt to de-construct it in its entirety, but the definition highlights a number of qualities you may find useful in your business at one point or another.
Never underestimate the value of a perspective which comes from an external and independent source, particularly when you need to address and resolve existing issues within your business. It’s natural for you and your team to become engrossed in running your business, but being that involved is also a weakness when it comes to having the objectivity to diagnose problems and finding solutions required to solve them.
The main reason to bring in a consultant is so they can add value. As part of agreeing terms upfront, you as the client may decide that the value be measured in monetary terms (e.g. additional sales of £2.5m); as a percentage (e.g. a 10% uplift in leads generated); or an outcome (e.g. new reporting system implemented and embedded by 31st December at a cost of £500,000; or a feasibility study delivered by a certain date).
It stands to reason that not all change is beneficial. The consultant’s role here is to, by virtue of his / her independence, objectivity and skill, ensure that any projects proposed or changes to be made in a particular area, will have actual benefit to the client’s business. Some businesses fall into a cycle of continually changing things; a consultant can help caution and point out the futility of a particular approach or initiative.
Still think you don't need a consultant in your business? These are just a few reasons why you might want to re-consider.