Business people often face an important and complex challenge or opportunity. Engaging a consultant to assist in the associated analysis and decision-making process can be a wise approach. The appropriate consultant can add significant value in the form of research, information, insights, ideas, suggestions, recommendations, approaches and/or solutions. These in turn can be acted on by management who hold the final authority and responsibility for decisions. Consultants therefore serve as researchers, facilitators and advisors.
As outlined in the figure below, a good consultant brings the following five key traits to the table:
Effective consultants employ the following three processes:
- Asking questions of management in order to probe deeply into the issues, the possible causes, efforts to date, and the range of possible solutions given the available time, resources and level of risk aversion.
- Provoking management to engage in creative out-of-the-box or lateral thinking (as per Edward deBono) by challenging them. (i.e. Why are things done this way? Could they be done like this instead?)
- Preparing well researched proposals for consideration and incorporation into the overall strategy by management.
So when you face an critical decision, consider tapping into not only the skills, experience and creativity of your team, colleagues and board members but also those of an external consultant to ensure a thorough consideration of all the options has been undertaken in a timely manner.
Considering Engaging a Consultant?
"Richard Mille’s success is founded upon three crucial elements: the best in technical innovation, the best of artistry and architecture, the best of the heritage and culture of fine watchmaking with hand finishing." Tennis star Rafael Nadal wears the $690,000 RM 27-01, the world's lightest tourbillion watch at 19 grams (my Timex is 44 grams).
"A consultant is someone who borrows your watch and tells you the time."
Advertising executive Carl Ally (1924-1999)
This is a frequently heard joke about consultants, but like many jokes it is actually a half truth. A good consultant works with you and your team to facilitate the achievement of your goals and desired outcomes.
Consultants (should) bring outside expertise and a breadth of experience, a fresh perspective and insights, honesty and independence, creativity, questions and challenges, as well as a toolbox of processes and methodologies to the project at hand. (If they don't, you may have the wrong person.) What they cannot bring includes a full understanding of the company mission, goals, culture, politics, capabilities, decision-making processes and risk tolerance. These can only come from the company's leaders, managers and employees (i.e. senior management, the project team and affected/involved employees.)
Thus a strong consulting engagement is a partnership or team effort in which the skills, knowledge and wisdom of everyone is leveraged to its maximum. Effective communication is hence critical in defining, developing and delivering the project.
Consultants will work as hard as you and your team to facilitate and contribute to successful outcomes, as this is how they build and maintain their reputation as well as ensure strong referrals - the two cornerstones of their marketing efforts.
For an independent take on consultants:
"To Consult or Not to Consult?" by Walter Lim of Cooler Insights 18/Dec/2012
"Why use a Consultant" by Small Business Development Associates (SBDA)
Some (somewhat biased) opinions on consulting and consultants.