De-Mystifying Consulting

De-Mystifying Consulting

Much value of consulting can be de-coded and applied in organizations, limiting the need to actually hire them and – hopefully – rendering work more challenging and rewarding.

I’ve served four dozen clients on almost the same number of topics, over a dozen years, across a dozen countries. Apart from a few basic trainings, I wasn’t really taught how to do it, but learned on the job, from and with colleagues and clients. Accenture Partners and client staff helped me pick up on value generation, developing people and effective and efficient ways of working. McKinsey colleagues and client executives helped me sharpen the expression of problems, findings and results. The people working on either side aren’t, in my mind, much different.
I’ve worked in organizations too, in different roles and always with a great degree of change. I’ve engaged, worked with, evaluated, extended and stopped consulting engagements. I see patterns of what consultants do well in organizations and how organizations can engage consultants better. There is waste in hiring consultants in poorly fitting ways, and there is lost opportunity in not expecting “consulting-like action” from employees.
I think much of the value of consulting comes from the situation of having new people come in and purposefully address a problem. The dynamic of that situation creates a momentum and an expectation that consultant-client teams deliver on, not just because they can but because they have to. What happens after a project sometimes disappoints, for a number of reasons, one being the loss of that momentum and specific expectation.
I believe much of the value of consulting can be de-coded and applied in organizations, limiting the need to actually hire them and – hopefully – rendering work more challenging and rewarding.
Here are a few of the elements:
Don’t start any work without a clear idea about why, followed by what. It only makes sense to solve problems that have been expressed; vague problems can be worked on perpetually and there is no measurement of resolve. There are several tools to define and structure problems and there is no need to over-complicate. Problems that are complex need to be broken down into its parts, in such a way that the answers to lower-level problems actually give the answers to the highest-level problem.  
Allocate work parts to work outcomes, and describe and park any peripheral work parts as and until their value fits the overall purpose. Agree in your group who does what and how and when to access each other to collaborate. While you concentrate, don’t read and react to emails or allow distractions that are not helpful. Orient your time to what you need to be doing, not to what there is that might require doing. If your role combines change work with day-to-day responsibilities, allocate your time between the two types of work.
Always. Answer to yourself and others on how you spend your time. Think of your work as if you were a consultant, with project workstreams and start and end times. What would your stakeholders have you work on, with what purpose and expecting what outcome for the time spent? If unclear, get together and find out. If something gets you stuck, ask for help or put in a placeholder to do so later. Be respectful of other people’s time and engage them only so much as (and in the way that) you see the value of their contribution. Ask a question if the answer matters, not because it occurs to you that the question exists.
Any work done merits to be registered and fed back to its place in solving the overall problem. Findings merit crisp expression. Evidence should be presentable and available, as needed. Dead ends or superfluous level of detail get marked as such. Content and clarity matter more than the form (although consistent form does facilitate reading).
Imagine there is a voice recording of your contributions or that your written expression got published. Come prepared to meetings and take care to finish and structure your thoughts before expressing them. Go step by step and build on what’s been said or written. Less is more. Always remember who your audience is. Adapt and check for understanding, as appropriate. Get feedback, training or help when you need to lift your level of communication.
When change work is purpose-oriented, there is no keeping people informed or optionally inviting people to meetings. Emails should have one, or very few, recipient(s). The email title, as well as the first sentence (of content) in every email, phone call or discussion, should summarize its purpose. Feel no embarrassment in excusing yourself from meetings where your contribution is not clear.
If you know something that matters that has gone undetected by your group, speak up. If you are not sure if it matters, you can test it with a well-put question. Your presence at any meeting or in team working requires you to engage and contribute, even if something is outside of your direct responsibility. Challenge any conclusions that you do not agree with and probe for explanations if what is being said, or what was written, is unclear.
If someone is struggling with something you master or if you have more time than your colleague, you help. Gracefully and without expecting returns. That’s what good consultants do.
Closing the loop is important. Work done needs to be summarized, presented, challenged, refined and communicated. The top-line message comes first. Decisions merit follow up. There are more stakeholders than the direct decision-makers and all have a right to know what has been learned and achieved.
Many things tend to work better in organizations than when done with and by consultants. Employees are better at picking up context and making relevant links to connect work results to use within the organization. Often, time is not explicitly dedicated to do this. It is assumed that immediate steps after closure of a project will be clear and that they will follow, but sometimes there appears to be conflicts between what came out as formal results of change work, decisions and actions and what exists in the organization. Just recognizing this helps you to put it in focus.
At times, an external PMO is kept for tracking and orchestrating implementation. While that may be necessary at times, it is always a good idea to try to have an employee hold, or grow into, the job of PMO, or at least to split work in such a way as to reduce the dependence on the consultant.
While I love consulting and being one, I think we can be engaged more selectively and with greater precision. The consulting market is in transition and you have many new options. There are networks that let you get matched to independent consultants if you want to speed up the search process. At times you can benefit from just the one person who guides you effectively through change work, someone on your side who cares to leave some of those consulting habits behind. Someone not bound by the need to sell services, who listens to you and cares for your situation. Someone trained and networked who can help you scale up things in your teams, or together with others, or who can be your sounding board if you need to source change services from a larger consultancy. 
Feel free to comment this article below, or kontaktieren Sie mich. I’m interested in your opinions and would like to get to help you professionally.

About the Author

I am a manager and business partner independently working for clients in the greater Zurich area and sometimes abroad. I have vast experience in service design, strategic sourcing, vendor governance and financial performance management. I am fascinated about well-functioning systems, with clear rules of engagement and respectful and interest-based collaboration and negotiation. My work includes business plans and business cases, outsourcing transactions, risk and financial frameworks and policies, and service transformation. I act as trusted advisor and leverage experiences gained in consulting (McKinsey, Accenture) and in industry (Zurich Insurance, UBS) in service delivery and capability building. A socially apt relationship-builder and confident communicator and negotiator, I interact with care and have a track record of achieving change. I energize from people, and care about both organizational performance and people’s health. Read more about each area, and check out meine Arbeit.

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