Many, even senior managers and directors, do not know what a consultants does. This article explains the 10 key roles, whatever aconsultant’s specialism.
So it is not surprising that client managers and directors feel uncertain about the role of business, management and even technical consultants.
Consultant has become a much over-used term and the word “consultant” is added to many job titles such as “sales consultant” to give spurious authority. As a result it has lost its clarity of meaning but a true consultant will be:
Adviser. First and foremost a consultant should be an adviser supporting the client in shaping an appropriate solution. As an adviser a consultant maintains independence and is in a position to challenge and support the client. The consultant should provide a fresh perspective supported by a body of specialist knowledge and skills
Diagnostician. An essential first step for most consultancy assignments is to diagnose the nature of the challenge the client is facing. Often the reason the organisation has called the consultant is because its management is struggling to define the proble
Source of expert knowledge, understanding and skills. The consultant should be more expert in their field than the client. They should have not only the necessary knowledge but know how to use it and in what context. Consultants should have expert skills in applying their knowledge based on true understanding and not simply by mechanical methods
Researcher and Analyst. Consultants should always be adding to their knowledge. It may be research and analysis specific to the client assignment or as part of the development of their own skills or specialists knowledge. A key part of that process is to be able to collect data and other knowledge and analyse it in way that leads to practical and effective application
Teacher, Facilitator, Counsellor or Mentor. Consultants will frequently be involved in transferring skills, providing personal advice and support to, often very senior, client staff. This can be a formal mentoring or development role, or more informal guidance and knowledge transfer.
Innovator, Prophet. Consultancy is about change and new thinking, at least for the client. This requires consultants to be creative and to understand latest ideas and developments in their field that they can suggest or even forecast the future direction of markets, industries, management thinking or technology as appropriate to their specialism.
Interpreter. Much is made of a consultant’s expert knowledge but it is no use if the consultant cannot explain it to client’s staff. Clients must understand the proposed outcomes and how they will need to implement and use the consultant’s suggestion. Consultants must be able to translate from their own language and context to that of the client.
Conscience. A consultant should act as the client management’s conscience and should constructively challenge its thinking and assumptions. Only then will client’s team understand the problem, proposed solution and thereby make the implementation of that solution their own.
Not shadow director. A consultant should always be careful not to get to close to the management of aclient as they could be deemed to be “shadow directors” and be held liable, as with the appointed directors,for the proper conduct of the business.
Not A manager or additional staff. If a consultant works as a temporary manager or as additional staff resources in a non advisory role they are essentially temporary, contract or interim staff, not consultants.
This should give a sense of what consultants should, and arguably, should not do. However above all their advice should be in the best interests of the client and should not simply be used as a means of selling their firms other products and services.
Small, boutique and specialist strategic consultancies tend to take the advisory role very seriously and avoid the confusion that comes with trying to be both a “doer” and an “independent adviser”.Many of the larger firms claim to do both but guaranteeing independence of advice becomes a challenge especially when senior consultants are measured by the fees they generate.
For those interested interested in becoming a consultant should read Ceating and Developing a Consultancy Practice by Martin Wilson. This is a comprehensive guide to becoming an indepndent consultant written by a consultant with thirty years experience of winning and working with clients of all sizes.
This article is derived from Martin Wilson’s book: Getting the Most from Consultants (1996, ISBN: 9780273620488) published by Pitman/Pearson Professional in conjunction with the Institute of Management (now the Chartered Management Institute). Compact eBooks or DVD courses are in development and it is hoped to find a publisher for an updated print edition.