Consultant is a dirty word

When someone uses the word “consultant,” what comes to mind?

The age old joke is that a consultant is someone that will take your watch and tell you what time it is.

Consulting as a rule has a bad rap because of a lot of bad consultants. It’s really quite easy to do a lot of interviews and research only to tell an organization what they really already know. Sometime this is valuable to the organization if you are honest in your assessment. That’s where really bad consulting takes shape–the consultant tells the client what they want to hear. This is a sure fire way to destroy your credibility.

In my 15 – 20 years as a consultant, it is pretty clear that you need to find out what’s happening in the organization and document the as-is. The most important aspect of this is to be honest, followed closely by really being able to understand an organization’s issues and operation fully. Delivering an as-is that is honest and complete can sometimes be difficult, but when done tactfully, I have yet to be thrown out f someone’s office.

The real skill is to know what are the top issues facing a company before you even start doing your assessment. If you’re calling me in, your number one problem is a lack of communication. You probably have leadership and management issues, there is a lack of formalized performance and process management, your organization lacks any formal employee development approach and probably is doing little to deliberately develop employees. You might have a strategy, but you came up with it in a conference room. Most of all, you know you have a problem but you have no clue why it’s happening.

So, before I start and assessment, I already know what to look for. Plus, I know what needs to be fixed and how to generally do that–plans vary based on the organization.

That leads to one of the most important things that a consultant can do–become one with your client’s mission and vision. If they don’t have it written down, ferret it out of them. Being part of the team focused on the purpose f the team and focused on where they are going builds a level of trust that you “get them.”

The other thing is that you have to have the ability to provide quick improvements, sometimes even during the interviews–solve the immediate needs and get quick wins. This means a consultant has to be an “executor.” Be willing to roll up your sleeves and turn a wrench or two when you see a bolt that needs tightening–no extra charge.

Lastly, you have to be able to turn that assessment into a gap analysis between where they are today Nd where they need to be–even if they don’t know where that is today. Out of that analysis you determine the things that MUST CHANGE for them to be successful. Most of all, I find organizations are doing well operationally, but on the business side they have. Lot of roadblocks. That’s because in order to safe on inefficient operations, they lean out the professional staff or neglect them altogether.

Consultants, focus on being a partner to your clients and delivering solutions that last not telling them the time with their own watch. Clients, look for the consultants that can already tell you what is wrong in your organization before they step one foot inside it. Also, have the intestinal fortitude to accept that you might be part of the problem and let the consultant tell you the truth.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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