Considerations on management consulting

Monday, 27 August 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Management consulting has become a thriving business in the wake of rapid economic expansion. We see a mushrooming of consultants in multiple areas working with corporate. What is management consulting and what should it deliver? Do we see it happing properly in Sri Lanka? Today’s column will shed light on this matter.

Consulting is a professional service which involves multiple facets. These include, diagnosing management problems, recommending optimum solutions, implementing solutions by assisting client organisations and evaluating results. Overview

“Consultants borrow your watch to tell you the time then they walk off with your watch,” said Robert Townsend, a former CEO of Avis. This is often interpreted as meaning that consultants will question you and your colleagues, capture your knowledge, and then not adequately document and share with you what they’ve learnt.

Should that be the way of a consultant’s approach? I tend to say no. It can be much more enriching and value-adding, if expectations and executions are managed properly. Let’s look at what it is all about.

Nature of management consulting

We can look at management consulting in many ways. According to Larry Greiner and Robert Metzger, management consulting is an advisory service contracted for and provided to organisations by specially trained and qualified Persons who assist the client organisation in an objective and independent manner, to identify management problems, analyse such problems, recommend solutions to those problems, and help, when requested, in the implementation of solutions.

Milan Kubr takes it further by stating that management consulting is an independent professional advisory service assisting managers and organisations to achieve organisational purposes and objectives by solving management and business problems, Identifying and seizing new opportunities, enhancing learning and implementing changes.

The International Labour Organization defines management consulting in a more precise way. According to them, it is the professional work performed by persons having requisite qualifications, experience, technical ability and temperament to advice and assist management on a professional basis for solving their managerial problems or with a view to maximising the business opportunities of their organisation.

Let’s see how consultants define management consulting. According to the Institute of Management Consultants, UK, it is the service provided by an independent and qualified person or persons in identifying and investigating problems concerned with policy, organisation, procedures and methods; recommending appropriate action and helping to implement these recommendations.

Facets of management consulting

Consulting is a professional service which involves multiple facets. These include, diagnosing management problems, recommending optimum solutions, implementing solutions by assisting client organisations and evaluating results.

It can be considered as an independent service performed according to certain ethics such as responsibility, accountability, confidentiality, transparency, impartiality and integrity. It in fact is essentially an advisory service, a service concerned with the application of professional knowledge and skills in dealing with practical management problems.

In looking into the client-consultant combination, seven key aspects cab be identified. I would go with Mike Cope, in calling them seven Cs of consulting.

Seven Cs of consulting

These refer to the content and conduct of a consultancy assignment.

1.Identify and understand the client’s needs.

2.Clarify the problem or issues to be addressed.

3.Create a solution to resolve the problem.

4.Initiate change and manage the change process.

5.Confirm that the changes introduced have taken root and the desired transition is taking place.

6.Ensure that the changes introduced will continue once the project is completed.

7.Close the consultancy engagement once the assignment is completed.

“A consultant is someone who saves his client almost enough to pay his fee,” so said Arnold H. Glasgow. This will not be the reality if the above seven Cs are taken with clarity and commitment.

The reality is that consultants are hired by organisations to obtain special knowledge and skills that are not available within organisations. This is where the supply intensive professional assistance on a temporary basis, takes place. Also, it helps to obtain an impartial unbiased view on a given problem or situation, or an outside expert opinion on a course of action that has been chosen by the management.

Guiding principles of consulting

Mike Thope, in his popular book, ‘Seven Cs of Consulting,’ offers several guiding principles of consulting. It is worth looking at them in order to see how best we can adapt them in Sri Lankan scenario.

nConsulting is fundamentally about change, about helping another person, team or organisation make the transformation from one state to another. This might be a physical, cognitive, emotional, structural, technological or organisational change. Unless something changes, then why should any reward be forthcoming from the client?

nAny consulting project will benefit from the application of a change model that makes sense to the client as well as the consultant.

nConsulting is consulting. Scale, context and outcomes may differ, but the basic steps are common to all assignments.

nSince content and context drive a consulting project, no two will be the same. So any consulting framework can only act as an indicative rather than a directive model.

nSuccessful consulting is about making a difference for the client and consumer- the goal is to deliver the contracted change, not a successful consultancy project.

The key to consulting is adding value in a sustainable manner. An effective consultant is one who adds value through creative solutions to problems. He/she establishes and maintains an effective relationship with the client. Also, he/she selects the right approach and style of consulting. He/she adopts a right combination of knowledge, skills, and personality traits with the capacity to integrate different identities or roles and flow seamlessly from one role to another.

From confusion to clarity

Arthur N. Turner, writing to Harvard Business Review says, consulting is more than giving advice. As he elaborates:

Of all the relationships that executives enter into with outsiders, perhaps none is so tainted by misunderstanding as the engagement of management consultants. The executives, consultants may seem concerned mainly with prolonging their assignments and unable to appreciate the practicalities of managerial issues.

Conversely, consultants may see their clients as short-sighted and lacking the backbone necessary to make important decisions. How can such stereotypes be done away with by starting at the beginning of the assignment? If managers and outside advisers work out in advance what is expected of each party during their work together, the chances of solving problems are improved.

He suggests that managers and consultants structure the engagement according to a hierarchy of goals — which proceeds from the most basic objective, providing information, to the most sophisticated, permanent improvement of organisational effectiveness. The best way to move up that hierarchy is for executives and advisers to work together to identify needs and develop solutions.

Consulting and change

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions,” said Peter Drucker. It is all about having an open mind in exploring the possibilities.

Consulting is fundamentally about change, about helping another person, team or organisation make the transformation from one state to another. This might be a physical, cognitive, emotional, structural, technological or organisational change. Unless something changes in the desired direction, there is no justification to expect any reward from the client.

Any consulting project will benefit from the application of a change model that makes sense to the client as well as the consultant. Successful consulting is about making a difference for the client and consumer – the goal is to deliver the contracted change.

As change is always uncomfortable, there will be inevitable resistance to change. Collectively overcoming it, in driving sustained change is the crusade of a consultant.

Sri Lankan scenario

Sri Lankan organisations tend to hire consultants of multiple calibres. Some may represent global consulting giants. Others may come from what is called as “boutique” consultancy firms. The rest may be individuals. Irrespective of the category, one thorny issue prevalent is the expectation mismatch. I have seen many a time what is expected by the client and what is delivered by the consultant not being the same. Disputes, disagreements and delays can be the common outcomes. What is required is the clarity and commitment from both fronts.

If the seven Cs of consulting can be properly adhered to, reaping benefits from engaging consultants will not be a distant reality.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour. He can be reached on ajantha@pim.lk.)

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