To be honest I’m struggling at the moment of determining which one I am…CRISIS MANAGER or MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT. I spend most of my time helping clients put out flames and I’m by no means complaining I’ve really enjoyed the relationships I’ve built, I’m just trying to place in perspective who I am at the present. Since getting into the consulting business after a prosperous career in corporate America I have learned that the business of consulting is not actually in its true sense “consulting”. The definition of consulting: “Engaged in the business of giving expert advice to people working in a professional or technical field.” The challenge I presently see for the consulting industry is that its role is ambiguous at best, and clients today want more than just expert advice. I’ve been consulting for the past 8 years and over that period of time my role has changed drastically. The first couple of years as a consultant I spent the majority of the time marketing my experience and competencies and finding ways to set myself apart from the gazillion consultants delivering similar solutions. Following the expected series of no’s, “we don’t need your services” and a mixture of some very creative no’s my focused changed to building up a credibility portfolio. It occurred to me that the reason why I wasn’t getting any business is that I lacked credibility not on the level of a Price Waterhouse or Bain Consulting…no one knew who the heck I was. So, after a series of lectures, a few whitepapers, testimonials, and becoming a contributor to the harvard business review I became an information/solution source people would at least take a look at. That consistent activity worked in getting more attention sent my way but not much engagement in inquiring about my services. It wasn’t until I applied for a couple of board positions and hooked up with a few board colleagues who happen to be consultants for some big consulting firms provide priceless advice to me as to why my business hadn’t taken off. The consistent advice I received had nothing to do with the standard definition of consulting it had a whole lot to do with addressing client crisis…just giving solution oriented advice wasn’t enough. My biggest client was a very well-known generic pharmaceutical company who decided to purchase a 14 year-old hospital product with two years left on its patent and increase its profit forecast from $32 million to $45 million in basically 1 year. I was brought in to help rejuvenate the brand marketing and basically rebuild a brand that had already been on the market for 14 years…so you can imagine the indifference we received from customers. The entire project had absolutely NO need for “advice”, it needed someone who could come in roll up the sleeves and dive into the muck of adversity to which thank goodness I was able to respond. However, after going through that experience and getting valuable advice from tenured consultants that situation is no longer unique. The days of consultants kicking back and just providing advice like that of pundits on TV no longer cut it and client expectations from their consultants are increasing. Companies are now hiring consultants as extensions to their infrastructure; you’re now hearing the title “contractor” come up more as corporations look for ways to bring in expertise without actually hiring them as employees. Much like my 8 years as a management consultant the role of a consultant is changing by the moment and the client of today is pushing that change.
“Getting in the Muck”
I had this impression of consulting that it was a role/job that people in their golden years after a long career in corporate America would play in just before moving to that dream job of retirement. Some people today would say it’s the best “unemployment job” available (LOL!). Both cases may have been true in the yesteryears…it is no longer the case today. Today’s consultant has to get their hands dirty in order to keep a client; I know this because I have fortunately picked up clients based on their displeasure with the previous consultants. Today’s competition for that client really boils down to your ability and commitment to “Getting in the Muck” per se with the client. Clients who are customers expect their consultants to know, breath, eat, and sleep their business and this cannot be done with just giving advice. Clients frequently wish to supplement skills in their organization by hiring experienced, proven, inspired consultants on a short-term or long term basis. Regardless of the timeframe clients need a consultant dedicated to reviewing the adversity and not only speaking to the solution but helping to tactically solve the solution. As I mentioned earlier I was actually asked to come inside a company and rebuild their brand, this took collaboration, partnering, understanding the corporate politics, and influencing/persuading thought….a little outside the old scope of consulting. The old objective view of consultant once again has changed:
“Consultants are retained as impartial advisors without any vested interest in the outcome of the recommendations. Internal staff may not be able to see the problems or may not be sufficiently objective. A consultant can perform a competent and thorough analysis of the issues. It is easier psychologically for personnel to adapt to external advice rather than the internal advice of someone who may be acting out of self-interest.” 
While there’s still validity to the above statement on the role of the consultant, the one area that has changed drastically is that “Consultants are retained as impartial advisors without any vested interest in the outcome of the recommendations”. That statement has changed clients are requesting that their consultants be accountable to the agreed upon outcome, and that’s how they determine their R.O.I. from the consultant’s fees. Yes, clients are becoming more demanding and their expectations of their consultants is increasing every day, so it’s imperative that today’s consultant can deliver on those demanding expectations otherwise their next step just possibly may be retirement.
Attributes of Successful Consultants
There have been various studies on what constitutes an effective consultant, below are some attributes:
- Good physical and mental health
- Professional etiquette and courtesy
- Stability of behavior
- Personal effectiveness and drive; that is, responsibility, accountable, initiative, resourceful and persistence.
- Integrity; that is, the quality that engenders trust
- Independence, self-reliance, and ability to resist conforming to the opinions of others
- Intellectual competence
- Good Judgement; that is, the ability to provide sound, objective appraisals in their areas of competence and experience
- Strong analytical or problem-solving ability
- Creativity; ability to see the situation with a fresh perspective
- Articulateness and persuasiveness, with above-average oral, written and graphic communication skills
- Psychological maturity; readiness to put people, things, and events in perspective and calmly and objectively without being diverted from sound, logical, and ethical course by outside pressure
- Interpersonal skills for building client relationships, such as gaining trust and respect, involving tem in solving problems, applying principles and techniques of change, and transferring knowledge
- Receptiveness to new information and the points of view expressed by others
- Oriented to the people aspect of problems….ADVERSITY
In addition to these attributes, consultants also require an all-encompassing knowledge of the business. They must recognize where they lack skills and seek to acquire those skills or employ people who have them.
Take a look at our whitepapers:
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AH2 & Beyond Consulting
 Consulting Business (Douglas Gray, BA, LLB)