Throughout all my years of consulting, I’ve regularly seen clients and potential clients not getting the most from consultants.
There can be many reasons for this, but the first thing to consider is why an organisation might choose to use consultants. Is it to supplement a resource or single skills requirement? Or is it to gain insight from other organisations and industry best practice? Or is it to gain access to the proven intellectual property and methodologies built by the consultancy?
This seems a straightforward question, so where’s the problem?
Well, I think it occurs when the picture gets blurred, the reason for using the consultant gets lost, and the client no longer has a clear idea of what they want from the consultant.
The contractor market can successfully fill an identified requirement and we can probably all think of cases where this has been the best way of an organisation getting what it needs.
A consultancy business adds a different type of value and, yes, this comes at a different price. The premium paid for engaging a consultancy only really makes sense if the consultancy is allowed to use the strength within its organisation on an assignment, and bring that valuable intellectual property, experience and methodology to the party. Without this, the client organisation is not getting a great deal for the premium it has paid over and above the contractor market.
In my experience there are three ways that client organisations view the consultancy value proposition:-
- There are those who focus mainly on day rates, rather than the value/cost equation. This has a knock-on effect, not only in terms of perception of the value for the client, but also affects the morale of the consultant. Consultants are no different to anyone else and if they don’t feel they are being perceived as adding proper value to a client, there can be a tendency to treat the assignment as just another job.
- Highly-managed organisations can create individuals who feel threatened by the consultancy, and therefore try to ensure the consultants are kept ‘in a box’ to deliver a very specific piece of work. We often talk about the importance of stakeholder management and change; most consultants have been at the forefront of numerous change programmes and this wider remit, with understanding and experience, is where real value can often be added.
- The best examples of extracting real value from a client-consultancy relationship occur when both parties view it as a true partnership, based on trust and expertise. No consultant understands the way a business works better than the people that work there, and few representatives of the client organisation will have the same breadth of experience and specific expertise as the consultant - combining these elements is the route to real success and ultimately real business benefits.
In summary, the key to success is, firstly knowing what you require and selecting the right external support. If you use a consulting organisation, make sure you have the right relationship in the first place. If you use the consultant and you can gain value from their IP and experience, you will not only get the best value, but you should also learn through the process which will start you on the road to self-sufficiency.
There is nothing more fulfilling for me and my team than having a truly joint project where we see our clients develop and build skills quickly, knowing that they’ve received real value.
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