Consultants – Part I: Consultancy Defined

The term “consultant” means different things under different circumstances, but it is generally regarded as a person that is considered to be an expert in some field for which they can be regarded as a professional advisor. While that sounds impressive, they don’t always have the respect of being an expert and many do not act professionally even though they charge for their services. I was told early in my corporate career that a consultant was like somebody that you hire to tell you the time: they come into your office, borrow your watch, tell you the time, steal your watch, and then charge you for the privilege of being robbed. A joke? Maybe not if the wrong consultant is chosen or if the expert advice is not heeded.

The detailed definition of consulting goes beyond having the name expert printed on a business card or letterhead. The reputation for true consultancy goes much deeper

  • Knowledge – Having particular native intelligence, hands-on experience, or personal knowledge in a designated area is the basic foundation of expertise. Without this first brick in the wall there is no substance to the advice that is offered. It is seldom a case of only applying personal experience, but credibility is strained without it.
  • Re-education – If only prior acquired knowledge contributed to expertise most consultancies would be extremely short lived. Consultants must be well read and keep up on the latest technology and trends that impact their areas of specialty. In addition to following trends, the best of the breed will also be forward thinking and innovative in expanding the state of the art in their field.
  • Research – All clients are not the same. To solve a company problem or advise on a new direction there must be an intimate knowledge of the company mindset. Interviews with executive management will give insight to the details of the desired direction, middle managers can speak to problems encountered in execution, and focus groups of employees are invaluable to provide a grass roots viewpoint of the culture.
  • Planning – There is no single approach to delivering sound advice to a client, but there must be a thoughtful process of incorporating personal knowledge, industry trends, and company environment into a workable plan. Testing against business projections and the impact of external stakeholders must be incorporated into the process.
  • Execution – Nothing is ever accomplished if objections to any assumptions or basic ground rules interfere with bringing the plan to completion. This involves reconnecting with the same group of internal advisors that provided the initial setting for the company research. Educating all employees on the implementation of changes through training or policy implementation makes it come to a successful conclusion.
  • Follow-up and Feedback – Along the way each element of the plan must have built-in milestones to measure progress and confirm success. At the conclusion, there must be an open door to revisit any remaining items and tie up loose ends.

It is not for the faint of heart. The risk of failure is always a possibility, but experience, expertise, and execution can turn pain into profit.

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