The 7 Virtues of Consultancy
In history the imagery that seems to lend itself most readily to indecision, to swaying one way or another whilst deciding which way to go is the one of the angel and the devil pulling in opposite directions, both trying to influence the decision maker. The decision often taken is to do nothing, as the power of both cancel each other out. This pictorial conflict dates back to AD 590 when Pope Gregory released a list of seven deadly sins which were to be avoided at all costs, glamorised in popular culture as the darkest evil depicted in 1995 movie with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. Pope Gregory however offered his help by providing a list of seven virtues which if practised were said to protect against the temptation of the 7 deadly sins and save you from damnation.
Many business owners and directors will wrestle with same conundrum – employ a consultant or not? Many believe that external business consultants are an expensive luxury, probably more so at the moment than at any other time when productivity is lower because of the lockdown, and the uncertainty that has created as people still seem very reluctant to return to normal life, most with little confidence the government can prevent a second wave or indeed has handled the economic shock of this pandemic well at all in spite of years of contingency planning for this very thing.
Whilst you might expect me to say it, this could not be further from the truth, and whilst there may be some initial outlay on fees, the value added return makes this cost insignificant in a very short amount of time. The first challenge of any business owner or director is recognising they need assistance either to fix a problem or help develop the business. Invariably, the limitations for them is usually time, experience, or expertise in how to do this, or a mixture of all three. Cost therefore should never be a barrier to getting third party assistance, only not recognising the need in the first place will be. If you think you need help, not asking for it would be counterproductive. So, what does a consultant bring to the table?
Here are the “7 virtues” of employing a consultant that could provide their own proverbial salvation from not doing so.
1. Objectivity & Benchmarking – The Starting Point
Everyone thinks they have the most expensive house on the street, the most talented child, the fastest car, and maybe this is true some of the time, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How do you know whether you do or whether you don’t? How do you know how you compare against your competitors?
Your own view inevitably, some not all the time, will be through rose tinted glasses and that of your Board or senior people will sometimes be driven by ambition or politics, or both, but how do you know when that is happening? Sounds Machiavellian and worthy of a box set on Netflix, but people do not like telling the boss that something isn’t very good for a whole variety of reasons, and some will choose not to for other ones. Internal reviews always tend to give the host business a more glowing report than it deserves, whilst the competition are apparently the ones who could be doing better. This is a fool’s paradise. Irrespective of the competition, there is no such thing as perfection, there is always room for improvement at a fixed point in time, and when things are changing all the time, a need to constantly make those assessments is essential.
A consultant has that objectivity to be able to provide an honest impartial assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your business and at the same time benchmark that against the competition in context of threats and opportunities. Their experience of working in their own businesses, with others as a consultant, networking and constantly researching the competition means they have seen and can see things you cannot. Business leaders are often guilty of working too much in their business to stand back and work on their business. The two are very different.
It is also the case that sometimes, the simple introduction of a third party can expedite the implementation of a solution to a problem already identified. Quite often, having a consultant come into the business can add support and validation to the good work you are already doing, but your teams need to hear that from someone else.
A diagnosis of any issue, in health, business or at home is about asking the right questions, whilst spending a lot more time listening to and interpreting the answers, and it always starts with the basics. A good consultant will take nothing for granted and will make no assumptions, and it is this back to basics analysis of the detail that often provides the most reward. A consultant will objectively investigate no different to a detective, get under the skin of the business, but the key is knowing what to ask and where to look so that the analysis presented provides identifies all the weaknesses and threats to the business.
3. Insight & Innovation
To the question, “Have you considered this?”, the answer is often, “No, I hadn’t”. Diagnosing weaknesses or threats, the analysis, is only one half of the equation. Insight gained from working independently with many other people and businesses gives a consultant the freedom to make suggestions that will be innovative perhaps may even be controversial outside the four walls of your business, but at the same time can be transformational. A consultant is not constrained by your company culture, by ambition or politics and can make honest recommendations about playing to your strengths whilst embracing opportunities to develop the business.
4. Experience & Skill Set
A good consultant will not only have many years of experience in the industry, they will have a broad range of skills that allow them to add value to areas of the business that you may not have considered. Having developed businesses and helped many others do the same, they have been in your shoes before and benefited in the same way from advice and support from other people. Working in different businesses, different sectors within the industry, networking, researching, mystery shopping helps them develop a 360 degree view that often leads to recommendations as to how different parts of your business can better cross pollinate, increasing efficiencies and profit.
This is simply the ability of a consultant to be able to provide the technical know how inside your business quickly without delaying whilst full time employees are recruited or existed ones trained which can often take months. This maybe to do with systems, processes, compliance, or simply best practice. Knowing where to start is one thing, getting it implemented correctly in a sensible time frame is another.
6. Troubleshooting & Flexibility
In the same way, sometimes you don’t need a consultant to tell you something is wrong or needs improvement, after all it is your business, and you will no doubt be aware of areas that need immediate attention, but how do you address these effectively or quickly so solutions can be implemented without there being a detrimental effect on the customer experience and productivity? You don’t have time to recruit someone, and you don’t need someone permanently either. Parachuting a consultant temporarily into the business to address the issues, leaving you to focus on your day job is often the best way to get quick results.
Likewise, most business owners like the ongoing flexibility using a consultant can bring in a 12-month period. Sometimes there will be bigger business development projects that need implementing when a new piece of legislation is introduced for example, that mean dialling in the expertise on a fixed budget is the most preferable route. Seconding under qualified existing employee away from fee earning activities is never ideal, and adding permanent headcount and cost is time consuming and more expensive.
7. Networking and Research
Many of the advantages of using a consultant are interlinked, but central to them all is their time exposed to and committed to their industry and craft. A good consultant makes it their business to be abreast of all legislative changes, best practice, industry suppliers, researching and networking, building relationships and being aware of who is who and what is what. Quite often they may be able to make an introduction that opens other doors to other the development of another relationship or partnership that delivers significant value to the business in the future, whether another advisor or simply a supplier that can support a process they implement.
So, using a consultant whilst it may feel like an additional expensive cost is often far cheaper than employing someone to do a similar job. Not only do you get the expertise, objectivity, experience, expert analysis and insight, you get the flexibility of dialling them in and out of your business without commitments of full time employees and the extra cost of pensions, healthcare, sick pay, cars and laptops. Most importantly, on top of all this you get results that improve your business.
Salvation is at hand.