I’m a business software consultant, so I know I can’t speak for consultants of every kind, but I believe that for all of us the consulting process is somewhat similar.
Putting aside the time we spend in selling our services, during which the consulting process must, in reality, begin (fees, or no fees), we all start with Diagnosis:
- We do some background research
- We listen to what our client and others have to say
- We ask questions
- We think and theorise
- We structure and analyse our findings
- We write our findings down
Then, when we’re sure we know what we’re doing we Advise
- We recommend a course of action
- We explain
Then, according to taste, or the conventions of our particular profession we may Execute
- We persuade
- We plan
- We manage, implement, and measure what we do
And then we Disappear.
The most difficult art is surely that of disappearance. Consultants are often centre stage during an engagement, full of ideas, full of determination to see their ideas bear fruit, but it’s no good at all if their clients can’t do without them. When the show is over the client must be able to manage without us.
This is the hardest part, to be dispensable. And the beginning of dispensability is not to be seen as the entire source of what’s happening. The most altruistic, self-effacing of consultants can pull off this trick by making everyone believe that the ideas are the client’s, not the consultant’s. Given that consultants tend to possess slightly larger egos than those who choose a quieter life, this particular trick is to be especially admired.
Why do clients seek the advice of consultants in the first place? There are many reasons:
- The client doesn’t have the time to address his issues. He has the skills and knowledge in his team, but his staff are fully deployed on operational tasks. He just needs more manpower.
- The client needs expertise that he can’t find internally, expertise that he needs only occasionally, so it makes sense for him to obtain short-term advice externally.
- The client wants an apolitical, independent point of view that hasn’t been formed internally. He wants a fresh, new, look at problems that may seem intractable to his managers or on which he can’t obtain internal agreement.
- The client needs to bolster his own position to persuade his staff of a particular course of action. He needs a consultant to act as a catalyst for change he wants to push through.
- The client needs coaching to help him perform his role.
Whatever the reasons for our engagement, these reasons must always be at the forefront of our minds as we carry out our work.