Why people hire consultants
The three main reasons why people hire a business consultant and why my technically expert colleagues could be missing out.
Just that word alone strikes many with a (very) negative reaction. A modern-day car salesman; expensive, full of smiles and false promises.
The reaction is perhaps none more scathing than from managers who are technical experts, used too, precision and certainty.
Well I share that technical background too but I do believe that there is value in hiring the right consulting help. I clearly have a vested interest here; accepted.
However, there is a different (better) side to the consulting story which I’d like to put forward. One which aims to make everyone better off, both financially and in terms of recognition for excellence.
Therefore, I briefly want to share three good reasons why someone might hire a consultant and discuss my thoughts on the matter, so perhaps my technical colleagues will take a moment to reflect and reconsider.
The Institute of Consulting, a respected trade body for the Consulting industry, highlights in this recently published paper “Using management consultants“, the three main reasons why people hire a consultant.
In summary these are:
- For short-term projects.
- To help an overstretched management team.
- For impartial advice.
Short term projects give teams access to consultancy expertise quickly and without the burden of long-term employment. People working in the technology-led industries are more than aware of this practise, and often refer to consultants as “contractors”.
Contractors however, are typically technical in nature. Their benefit is readily understood and quantifiable. There is typically a ready market for contractors with similar skills sets. This means that its often worth taking someone on quickly as the team will soon discover if the contractor can do the job or not. If not, then it is relatively pain free to replace them at short notice.
Contractors in other words are doers. They create tangible outputs, progress projects and solve real technical problems.
Business consulting has similarities with the mechanism of engagement of expertise (hourly/day rates etc), however, the type of expertise offered is different.
Business consultants typically offer less tangible expertise that should offer significantly more long-term value to the business itself.
Unfortunately, this value is often harder to quantify and not obviously linked to the consultants fees (unless they are using value-based fees of course.) This could be for a number of reasons such as when the advice is outside of a technical managers direct experience.
Just as in the technical world there is a language used in consulting circles; short cuts that everyone understands. The issue consultants have is that these words, although precise in their own minds, often sound like waffle to technical experts -
“Going forward we absolutely must keep razor sharp focus on the strategic implementation imperatives, otherwise we will face considerable head-winds and challenges from the competitive landscape.”
A Another Consultant – since dawn of time
This Dilbert style language clearly sets the wrong tone with people who see the world with clarity and simplicity.
The thing is, technically-led management teams of busy growing businesses, face challenges everyday that they are simply too busy to deal with properly and effectively. Work life is happening so fast that there simply isn’t time to do everything.
Business consultants may well have the skills necessary to relieve the burdens on an over stretched management team. They should certainly have the skills to pursue projects that would otherwise not be completed.
Clearly the issue is that these managers are operating at a high profile within their organisations. They may engage with their customers and suppliers regularly for a number of reasons. Their reputation, and that of their business, is hard won and in their hands. They are clearly going to be sceptical of exposing these customers to “know it all’s” who talk silly. Even worse if they try to force on them a well worn “model” or approach that could easily end up causing more harm than good.
The last point and potentially most curious point is this concept of consultants giving objective advice.
Interestingly there is evidence that a management teams employees could be more willing to accept recommendations or advice knowing that it has come from (or at least been validated by) a respected third party.
I find this point curious because, while it is more than true, technical experts and senior managers are A-typically against being told what to do. They are successful and got their for a reason. What would some funny speaking consultant have to offer? Consultancy is all just common sense wrapped up in fancy words, isn’t it?
Luckily, I have had the opportunity to work with some extremely high-achievers. Both highly intellectually gifted individuals and/or the best in the world at their chosen sport or occupation.
Many times technical managers are just too close to their own problems to be able to take a step back and review what they are doing. They have forgotten what they didn’t know. They have forgotten what it was like to start to try and understand their endeavour for the first time. Consequently how can they start to understand how their customers think or evaluate? How can they objectively analyse where they are in a market place?
Coupled with this “can’t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees” closeness and the feeling that any kind of advisor is for people with problems – then it is no surprise that technically-led business managers are turned off by consultants.
In addition, unlike when something technical is designed, one can never really know what is in the customers mind. It is up to them after all what they do and how they choose to do things.
A consultant or objective advisor, should however be able to highlight the simple things that make all the difference in the customers eyes; things that many technical experts dismiss as trivial or obvious quite simply aren’t trivial or obvious to the customer.
The natural tendency of a good technical expert is to be cynical. Of course, I am very pleased about this. I want the guy who designed the wings on my plane to be the most cynical person in the world; someone who would not sign-off the design until it absolutely met each and every one of his exacting “stretch” targets.
For engineering this is great. For running a business or business unit this is not.
Managed well, and set-up as a proper partnership, hiring a business consultant can add a lot of value to a technically-led business. If you can find someone who has a deep technical expertise coupled with the business consulting focus then this has to be the best bet (again I would say that: accepted).
I hope this puts some perspective on the value of hiring a consultant for business improvement.
This is just my perspective.
I’d welcome the thoughts from technical experts who have procured business consulting type services. Was it a success? What happened? Would you do it again?
Leave a comment (below) or contact me direct.