Only very recently a friend was discussing his business with me. As he talked I began to understand some of the key issues facing his company. It was clear that not only did he understand these issues but also he had a broad understanding of the causes and some ideas on solving them. This had come from his own observations and those of his business mentor. I asked whether he’d put actions in place to address the issues. “Not yet” came the answer. He hadn’t found the time. Freed from the day-to-day running of the business he’d be able to make progress, however, those opportunities were few and far between. So months had passed without any change.
You can see changes need to be made …
No doubt this story will resonate with many business owners and senior managers. You’re accountable for the health and success of the company. You can see clearly that changes need to be made but you just don’t have the wherewithal to make them. That’s where consultants – like me – can help by adding the focus, capacity and capability needed to make changes happen. Of course there are different types of consultant. My own strengths are in business analysis and change facilitation, planning and implementation. On the facilitation-side I’ve found there is truth in the adage that consultants borrow their clients’ watches only to tell them the time. But I’m a firm believer that this is usually a good thing. The “answers” often come partially or wholly from those already within the organisation … particularly the most experienced staff, managers and directors.
A good consultant
A good consultant will create an opportunity for them to step away temporarily from their day jobs to reflect on the issues and opportunities and to contribute new ideas. They will also bring an external perspective from experience gained at many different companies. A good consultant will be able to test any assumptions through detailed analysis … checking the proposed actions will achieve the intended objectives. He or she will be able to drive and support the change during its implementation to make sure it happens and is fully embedded into the company’s day-to-day operations.
A different client told me that she appreciates the structured approach and rigour brought by consultants and that it’s her opinion this results in better outcomes. Another said he values that it’s not him who “owns” the change. He values the credibility created by working with an independent and unbiased professional, commenting that it’s helpful when making the case for change to staff, managers, directors or shareholders.
Consultants can work flexibly too, for as long as the job takes. Personally I will work part-time for a client in situations where the work doesn’t require full-time focus. And when the job is finished then consultants finish too. Of course we hope that we’ll be invited back when something else needs doing but there’s no obligation and no on-going payroll cost to the business.
Above all the good consultant must walk away having added more value to their client’s business than they have added cost.
Julian Rains is an experienced consultant specialising in business improvement.