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Understanding business consulting roles in the era of free intellectual property & alternative workforce.

In a world brimming with hyper-connectivity, free intellectual property, alternative workforces, and instant information, business consultants‘ role has become less obvious.

Amidst an ever-growing supply of consumer and business insight and information, consultants offer an essential combination of expertise, approved approaches to critical success factors. They advise on analyzing and interpreting various types of information within a short period of time.

Business operations are becoming increasingly complex. Managing rapid change and digital transformation is a challenging exercise.

Continuous integration of new strategies to keep up with a dramatically changing economy often leads to miscalculations in organizational structures. It causes budget cut-backs regarding services like, e.g., Business Consulting.

The new economy calls for new skills.

Employee Experience and extensive internal education programs are developed to retain, promote, and mobilize enterprises’ talent. Continuous learning to develop, upskill, or reskill employees – is becoming a critical factor in securing market share and business continuity.

Talent networks – specialized in various market segments – like Kaggle (the world´s largest network of data strategists and data scientists) are significantly growing.

According to the survey results of “2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends”, companies seeking freelancers or contractors with niche expertise to fill skill gaps (tactically “filling slots”) as an alternative to filling vacancies.

Are these new market developments mentioned above becoming a viable alternative to hiring business consultants?

If employees learn new work approaches and outsource special tasks to niche experts via networks or platforms, are business consultants essential?

Yes.

I have been working as a freelance business consultant for almost two decades.

Lately, I am often asked what I see as the main purpose of business consultants and their role in the new economy.

In general, a consultant is a professional with relevant – in-depth – experience and qualifications which provides their expertise, advice, and/or support to a client to achieve specific objectives.

Markets Have Changed Significantly – The Traditional Role of Business Consultants Hasn’t. Here’s Why!

This may sound provocative, but I believe that traditional business consulting principles still apply despite upheavals in economic, organizational, or political climates.

The intriguing article of Arthur N. Turner “Consulting Is More Than Giving Advice,” from the September 1982 issue of the Harvard Business Review, reflects on research results on effective consulting, drawing on interviews and conversations with consultants and companies in the U.S. and abroad.

It’s truly amazing that the concept of Arthur N. Turner from the 80s still applies today!

Arthur N. Turner concludes that “when clarity about the purpose exists, both parties are more likely to handle the engagement process satisfactorily.”

In his article, he refers to management consultants (MCs). MCs are predominantly assigned to specific strategic tasks – assigned by top management.

Nevertheless, the purposes summarized from Arthur N. Turner’s eight key objectives also apply to business consulting (not assigned by top management level) in the same way.

Have a look at the objectives and a summary of what the objectives stand for in the infographic below.

Infographic Hierarchy of Consulting Purpose Based Arthur N. Turner - By Aylin Ihnen

2 Examples of When to Call in A Business Consultant

Of course, there are many situations when it makes sense to hire a consultant. I’ve selected two common business scenarios in which a business consultant can be invaluable:

  • Launching a strategically relevant project within a short timeframe, a consultant can be wildly beneficial.

    Even if you limit the assignment to the preparation of a roadmap, fresh eyes, an objective perspective, and a proven methodology. A consultant will help you to focus on relevant tasks, get a quick overview of key objectives, lower stress, raise confidence, and — a nice side effect — helps management look good!

  • Workplace evaluations can be a prime directive for bringing in a strong consultant or consulting firm. Put your criteria and categories of evaluation together and let them go to work!

    Workplace evaluations can turn into a trap of internal politics, roadblocks, and conflict of interest.
    Hiring a consultant will raise internal acceptance of the presented results. The fact that an external – objective source came to the conclusions – after analyzing the workplace environment – helps immensely. In cases where your analysis results are questioned internally, you can always fall back on the external objective market evaluation – a nice side effect.

Quality Standards in Consulting & Advisory Services Vary Substantially

It is no secret that professional consultants and firms have earned somewhat of a negative reputation in the past decade.

This is probably an undue reputation on consultants in general, but the fact that engaging in consulting services requires no formal training means practically anyone can call themselves a consultant.

Image Quality Standards Business Consulting Article

There are enormous differences in work style, depth-of-knowledge (in the same subject-matter), quality of delivery, and overall results.

Many professionals working in this sector under the title of consulting, advisory, or business coaching.

It is often a challenge to find the right one – who matches your requirements and delivers desired results on time and within budget.

What to Look Out For When Hiring A Business Consultant

Image Hiring Process Business Consultants

If you work for a large organization or multinational corporation, check to see if there are existing databases of preferred service suppliers, procurement processes, and checklists that can help you find the right consultant for your initiative.

If that is not the case and you are responsible for finding a professional to bring in – don’t be misled by

  • good self-marketing,
  • strong rhetoric, and
  • a convincing appearance of the consultant.

That can be deceptive.

  • Positive referrals, good references and testimonials, or a large number of project assignments do not mean that the consultant is suitable for the project or initiative and can help you to achieve the required objectives.

  • Appearance and presentation are not everything. There are so many pearls with outstanding skills tucked inside shells. Some of the best consultants out there may not shine through their selfmarketing skills.

  • Don’t forget that you are looking for a professional that understands your requirements & challenges and knows how to push your initiative forward. A good consultant will know how to accomplish results quickly by navigating through complex environments.

4 Tips To Help You Interview Consulting Candidates Effectively

  • Look for someone who delivers concrete problem-solving approaches customized to your needs.

    Test this skill by letting them work on an ad-hoc case that represents a singular central issue to your problem.

  • Look for a business consultant who offers solutions based on context and an understanding of your business needs.

    One key criterion is to find a professional who will consider how to integrate you, your team, or other affected units into their working processes.

  • Look for a business consultant who addresses your specific needs but has the versatility to deliver a holistic approach that also considers overall company-specific critical factors for your project.

    Ask how they would approach the assessment of your current state. The foundation of the assessment should include cross-functional teams and interviews with relevant team members of your department.

    Ask what you’ll get at the end of the assignment. Effective consultants will leave you with a framework you and your team can immediately apply.

  • The business consultant should help you and your team members to own the working progress and the end result.

    Ask how they are planning to integrate, enable, motivate, promote added value and support your team and other affected business units to own and identify with the project and/or the end result.

What are your thoughts or experiences on this topic?

You are welcome to write a comment or contact me with further questions.

Further reading

If you would like to read more about this subject, I recently found this interesting article, “Judging the consultants – how firms weigh individuals’ worths,” in the Financial Times issue from January 2020.

It offers perspectives about measuring the effectiveness of a consultant.

This article also makes some insightful statements about the generational shift of the definition of results in the context of consulting. At least I thought so, read it yourself and decide!

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Resources

  • Images by Shutterstock
  • Infographic by Aylin Ihnen based on Arthur N. Turner
  • Audio performed by Aretha Smith