Jake Fox joined Whitecap Consulting six weeks ago, straight from finishing his undergraduate degree in Entrepreneurship and Management at Lancaster University. He has looked to gain strategy consulting experience before moving on to a Masters degree in Finance and Economics for Development, in September.
In a short amount of time, Jake has been through quite the learning curve, gaining insight into the consulting process.
This three part series has been written by Jake, based on his views about the consultant-client relationship,examining the role of the consultant, and the effective running of the consultant recruitment and management processes.
Part one – Seven reasons to hire a consultant
From filling a short term staffing gap to the implementation of a major programme of organisational structural change, consultants can provide valuable expertise and insights to help companies achieve their goals and execute a strategy.
But when is the right time to hire a consultant, how do you choose a good consultant, and what on-going steps should you take to ensure you get the best out of a client consultant relationship?
Business leaders know their market better than anyone. They often already have an idea on how they see a problem or opportunity, but would value the opportunity for an objective point of view.
Consultants will have a broad overview, understanding, and external perspective. Leadership can be lonely. A second opinion can provide reassurance prior to making a key business decision.
2. You’re too busy
While some business leaders seek the reassurance of a consultant’s perspective before making a decision, others already know exactly what they need to do – but simply lack the time to implement their plans.
A consultant can be tasked to focus on a specific project and see it through on deadline, without the distractions and day-to-day pressures and distractions that an employee embedded in the business will have. This often makes bringing in a consultant much more time and cost effective than running a project in-house.
A word of caution, though: to get the best out of a consultant, you’ll need to dedicate some time at the outset to clearly set out a brief and facilitate the consultant’s requirements, for example on research and approvals. This is covered in more detail in part three.
3. Specific knowledge, skills and experience
There may be a requirement for a specific skillset or knowledge and experience that isn’t currently available internally within the business. Consultants give business leaders the opportunity to bring in niche skills on a “pay as you go” basis, without the commitment of employing someone – particularly helpful if the need is short term or project based.
Through regularly working with different clients, consultants come with a much broader experience. They can offer a different viewpoint on a situation or issue, and come with experience of how others in your industry have dealt with similar issues.
4. Ability to challenge
Their objective position means consultants can bring a fresh perspective. To get the best out of a consultant, business leaders should actively invite challenges to provoke them to consider all aspects of a problem or solution before making a decision.
A good consultant should not be afraid to challenge, and their unique position means they can do so without the fear of reprisals that employees might have from questioning management decisions.
Fostering an open and honest relationship with your consultant is therefore vital, particularly for example when developing a turnaround strategy for a business in decline. Getting the most out of a consultant is covered in more detail in part three of this series.
5. Impartial political cover
Hiring consultants can offer business leaders a way to reach or justify a desired conclusion with sufficient political cover to avoid internal conflict.
This can be particularly valuable in situations where strong senior personalities within an organisation support outdated “sacred cows” or oppose controversial proposed changes such as job cuts, major operational or strategic changes, and employee salary or benefit changes.
External consultants may find turning agnostic stakeholders into advocates much easier than internal team or board members.
A consultant’s job in making controversial conclusions known can be tough, but ultimately CEOs highly value their backup in these situations.
6. Knowledge of best practice
Consultants have the rare privilege of working with multiple clients in the same sector and often serving various clients facing similar problems across different sectors.
This broad view gives them access to a wealth of knowledge and experience on best practices across both industries and functions. Consultants such as Whitecap can easily recognise common issues and offer effective tried-and-tested solutions.
7. Access to information and resources
Consultants that specialise in niche areas or particular business functions (for example marketing research) are able to cost effectively invest in systems and data that may not be financially viable for their client companies. Data mining, analytics and market research capacity are examples of these areas.
Overall, consultants bring a wealth of strengths to your business and can deliver a wide range of services. So, if you’re seeking a solution to a particular business problem, undergoing organisational change or can see new market opportunities but lack the resources to follow them up, a consultant may be the answer you need.
Whitecap Consulting is a team of specialist consultants that work with organisations to help to shape their business and marketing strategy.