“Strategic direction is more important today. It's about providing a framework for managers to navigate through the fog of complex chokes. No company can avoid this."

– C.K. Prahalad –

PoS Aug 2015 | How to get the BEST from your consultant

So, you have decided to engage a consultant for your organisation. How can you get the best results from the engagement? How can you leverage the expert’s knowledge and experience for sound, useful advice?

Your preparation for the consulting work should have started before you got him on board. You should have figured out what you want to achieve and why. If you haven’t, it’s a good idea to think deeply, discuss with colleagues and develop a hypothesis on what the organisation needs. Your consultant can start fom here.

Independent assessment
All good consultants spend a fair amount of time to first understand the context of the client’s business. They often start with the client’s assessment of issues. Over the next few days, sometimes weeks they meet managers, visit customers and suppliers, observe operations in plants and offices, read reports, and analyse data. They attempt to form an independent assessment of the firm’s needs and realities.

Choosing the right approach
As the CEO you should assist this inquiry in every way, especially by encouraging managers to share their views unreservedly. A good consultant keeps managers’ identities confidential while sharing insights with top managements.

The next step involves formulation of the strategy or solution to the problem. The consultant may take some time to formulate his thoughts and may come up with one or more approaches. He would want to involve you in selecting the most appropriate one. Your intimate knowledge of the business and people will prove invaluable in making the right pick.

You must engage with him actively. You may defer to his experience and expertise, but remember he lacks your close insight. Work with him to choose the best approach, and adapt it to your unique situaton.

Sometimes, you may not immediately see the pitfalls in implementing the consultant’s suggestion. Consult some of your knowledgeable colleagues, agonise over it for a day or two, if necessary. Make sure you have the resources and buy-in of managers for implementation. A good consultant usually factors in implementatbility but your decision is crucial. Make it with care.


The case of a mid-sized Indian engineering firm


The firm had been losing money for several years. Morale was low. Managers wondered why the CEO was not doing enough to bring about decisive change. The CEO engaged a reputed consulting firm to bring about agreement on what needed to be done. The consulting firm did a diligent diagnosis and conducted a workshop to initiate the change programme.

The CEO was weakly involved in individual businesses that were matrixed with global business units. He lacked the insight to sense that the consulting firm’s approach to the workshop would not resonate with his people. It left the team disappointed and the much needed change initiatives fizzled out.

Engaging the full organization
In the strategy or solution formulation phase perhaps the top 20 or 30 people have been involved. Implementation involves the whole organisation in a phased manner. Your role is paramount now. You have to not only enthuse a large group of people to adopt new ways but also help them carry out the changes.

Some consultants start with organisation wide implementation; others engage people in team projects that are in the nature of experiments or limited scope implementation. The latter cuts risk and provides learning opportunity.

You can help by picking the best cross functional teams. See that the consultant has access to the teams and they work closely with him. The consultant would want the Company to learn from the projects. You should organise forums and meetings for sharing of experiences and cross fertilisation of ideas.


The case of a software services company


The President of a software services company helped his team pick five cross-functional projects that emanated from a strategy workshop a reputed consultant facilitated. Each project was constituted from a small team of three senior managers. They co-opted another four from elsewhere in the organisation based on their skills.

The President ensured each project team had unfettered access to a sponsor within and the consultant. Between them they guided each project through analysis of secondary data, primary research and several rounds of discussion. They developed hypotheses and carried out limited roll out of initiatives. Each team regularly shared their findings with other project teams. Each learned from the other and provided much needed course correction.

The consulting engagement embedded qualitative strategy review every quarter. Lessons from success and failure were discussed and strategy tweaked for the future. In spite of deep reservations of managers initially, revenue and profit began to grow at a faster clip in two quarters. Doubting Thomases became votaries and the President gained star status.

You gain the most
As the CEO, BU, or Function Head you are the main beneficiary and sponsor, and the consultant your principal resource. His knowledge and experience have the potential to transform your business. Your contribution can be immeasurable.

No consultant succeeds at every project. You can make a difference by engaging actively with the expert. Prepare well for the project, make available all necessary company data, share your deepest insights and concerns, and facilitate his endeavour. You have the most to gain from his success.

View the prequel (July 2015) to the above post:When Do You N