The art of business management consulting is a more nuanced and subjective process than some may realize at first glance. There are plenty of standard practices that industry veterans continue to use, but most consulting firms view and define them differently. Each consultation job is a different case, and there’s no single process that works for every client. There are, however, more enlightened ways to view the fundamentals of effective business consulting practices.
Business Management Consulting Industry Outlook
Some business consultants believe the best way to define the fundamentals of their practice is based on their area of expertise. Improving operation management techniques is different from refining corporate strategy or analyzing one’s competition. This approach isn’t necessarily wrong, but each of these categories contains their own set of internal differences. We can’t categorize or treat every case of competitive analysis the same.
Another way to view the process of consultation is by taking a systematic approach. One can argue every case follows a specific chain of events. The consultant finds a client, sets up a contract, diagnoses the issue, collects data, gives feedback, and finally implements a solution. Industry experts may follow this chain of events, but it’s not a rigid process due to the collaborative nature of consultation. Sometimes these events are out of order, and often the consultant will revisit a step more than once.
Fulfilling a Set of Objectives
It may be more beneficial to look at consultation as a list of objectives to complete. Each goal has a distinct purpose and achieving is typically a self-contained process. You don’t need to meet these objectives in a particular order, so there is no “wrong” way to go about each job.
Take a look at this list of primary and secondary goals:
- Providing your client with information.
- Solving their problems.
- Make your diagnosis, even if it means redefining the problem.
- Recommend courses of action based on your diagnosis.
- Aid your client with implementation of new practices.
- Creating consensus and commitment to corrective actions among management.
- Teach your clients how to solve similar problems in the future.
- Improving overall effectiveness of the client’s organization.
These primary objectives are fairly straightforward and applicable to any business consultation project. The fifth point, aiding your client with implementation, can create some contention. Some clients may want to go through their own internal methods when implementing a change regarding management or their processes. Either way, these first five objectives are universal to nearly every job taken by a consultant.
The secondary objectives are typically either by-products from going through the motions to meet the primary goals or additional goals to reach. They’re more about fine-tuning the changes and implementations you’ve already worked out with them. Many clients don’t request the secondary services because they feel they’re unnecessary or they can meet those goals on their own. While these secondary objectives are significant and warrant further discussion, they’re outside the scope of this article. For now, we’ll cover the primary objectives, what they entail, and their importance to your project.
The Value of Information
Information is power. Many potential clients are looking for assistance in obtaining the information they desire. Even if a client has access to the data, they need they may not have the human resources or ability to compile it into a useful format for themselves. Sometimes they may just need a second opinion from a professional about the information they already have.
You’ll often find that the information a client requests is oftentimes not the same as what they need. This may create conflict in what you’re contracted to do and what might benefit your client the most. Keep collaborating with your client to find out what information they’re looking for and what they already have.
Clients won’t ask for a consultant if they didn’t have a problem to solve. Ensuring they have correct and useful information is often all they want. Other times, they genuinely need an outside perspective to crack a problem they’ve been working on for awhile.
Your client may want to change their marketing strategy or determine whether buying a component they need is cheaper than produce one internally. Sometimes they need your expertise on reforming their organization to more easily adapt to future projects to expand their business. The type of problem you’ll face heavily depends on your area of expertise.
Performance Improvement Diagnostics
This is one of the more difficult objectives to meet in any business management consulting project. Taking a critical eye to an organization can reveal unexpected or otherwise challenging situations to handle. It may strain the relationship you have with your client, but remind them of their best interests for the long run.
Making an accurate diagnosis is more than observing the surface attributes of an organization. The environment they operate in, their economics, and employee attitude are essential, but it’s not the whole story. A competent consultant will question management why they made specific choices that led to their predicament. Determining whether these choices were intentional or were made in ignorance of other crucial factors is essential in finding the root of the problem.
Reviewing, Comparing Possible Courses of Action
Presenting a potential solution to your client’s problem is not as simple as having a one-time conversation with them. You’ll need to address everyone who is relevant and connected to the situation. Then, you need to decide if a written report or oral presentation is the best way to get your message across.
You’ll typically want something more collaborative if you’re planning to follow through with the next step: assisting them with the implementation of your proposed changes.
Implementing a New Strategy, Process, or System
Many clients prefer to achieve this goal on their own. Respect their wishes, but understand that sometimes they may need your help to ensure the changes are completed correctly. They may also need your help if the new course of action is intricate and complex. Sometimes, they merely they lack the expertise and workforce to see it through. You’ve already come this far with your client to ensure the new changes are implemented positively and effectively. Don’t hesitate to offer your assistance.
Finally, ensure the client you’re working with has a culture you can mesh with for the duration of the project. Not all business management consulting agencies and organizations get along with each other. Sometimes, it’s better to find another client if you feel you’ll be butting heads with them at every turn. In other cases, a few adjustments is more than enough to make things work.