While business people typically have a broad range of skills, with perhaps some specialties; changes within the business, in the broader economic climate, or other unforeseen circumstances, can create a need that can't be met with the existing skills within the business. When that occurs, employing a specialist consultant can provide the skills necessary to deal with the situation as well as an objective viewpoint that can help to effectively focus the team.
This is the first of three posts about needing, selecting, and managing a consultant. And in this first post we will quickly examine why you might need a consultant. At the end of this post, you can make an ‘in principle’ decision on whether to engage a consultant, or not.
First though, I must ask you to ‘support’ this definition of what consulting is about - a relationship in which an outsider makes his or her skills and knowledge and experience available to an enterprise in an advisory role, including implementation.
And the key word here is implementation – the outcome/s of any consulting project must be implementable.
What could a consultant do for you?
There are seven main things:
- Provide information
- Solve problems / issues / challenges
- Realise latent opportunities
- Diagnose, and redefine problems / issues / challenges & opportunities
- Build consensus and commitment around corrective action
- Facilitate client learning
- Permanently improve organisational effectiveness.
And the last three, are the mark of the ‘better’ and more effective consultant.
Why does an organisation 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 / realisation
- Surviving a crisis
- Initiating change
- Obtaining funding
- Selecting key personnel
- In-house education
- Conflict resolution
- Executive assistance
- Government regulatory assistance
- Socio-economic and political change.
And of these each needs, can be broken down into six parts:
- We must have specific skills
- We require knowledge
- We demand experience
- We will set a timeframe
- 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 consulting help, 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 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 (eg HR – psychometric testing) and rarely a #4 (these are the big firms, eg IBM, Accenture, used by the largest organisations).
As you can see there is a lot to consider in why you might need a consultant. And I contend that many of the ‘bad consultant’ stories I hear, are as a result of not giving these considerations due care and attention.
So, your first decision is to make an ‘in principle’ decision on whether or not to engage a consultant to address the needs that you have.
So it’s not a final decision, as you may feel that you can address your needs with your own resources and that’s clearly OK. This decision just says we are going to move to selection, which is where a final decision on engaging a consultant will be made.
I want to hear your ‘good consultant’ story … so please quickly work through these considerations … shouldn’t take much time.