Consultants provide their clients with services that vary according to the need of the client and a consultant’s specific area of expertise (e.g. applied engineering, implementing quality or IT management systems, managing complex technical programs, developing curricula and delivering training, planning for and implementing organizational changes in the workplace, defining new business designs, processes, or strategies, etc.). The role of a consultant can be strictly advisory, providing a physical product, providing a specific outcome, and/or a combination of everything; the latter is usually the case. I understand that the services a consultant provides are not as widely visible or understood as the services provided by a lawyer or an accountant, but a consultant is a professional that can be a resource for any business.
The role of an independent consultant (e.g. note an independent consultant is not previously affiliated with any commercial products or services) is to apply their knowledge, expertise and process training solely for the benefit of their client and client’s organization. The services delivered are tailored to the problem statement or project goals, organization, internal and external risks and environmental pressures, and client(s) involved.
Below are examples of how I describe the role of a consultant to those that are interested in pursuing careers in consulting.
- Consultants can specialize in sector(s) (e.g. Financial Services, Healthcare, Defense) or service(s) (e.g. project management, people and organizational change management, data analytics), or both!
- Consulting engagements are typically categorized as strategic implementations or tactical implementations. Professional consulting firms can be known for one or both specialties.
- Consultants are trained both in the “science” and “skill” of consulting, and are known both for their technical and soft skills. The soft skills include oral and written communication, listening, presentation, influencing and negotiation, and change management.
- Consultants may begin an engagement as the professional services provider, but over time should be identified as a client’s trusted adviser and representative.
- A consultant’s role in an organization should be temporary. Consultants should not be viewed in the organization as “crutches”.
In closing, as I was writing this blog, I came across several online definitions for the word “consultant” that had less than favorable connotations:
- “a person who gives professional advice or services to companies for a fee”. (Source: Merriam-Webster.com)
- “Experienced professional who provides expert knowledge (often packaged under a catchy name) for a fee. He or she works in an advisory capacity only and is usually not accountable for the outcome of a consulting exercise.” (Source: Business Dictionary.com)
A good consultant delivers value that can be measured and is visible to the client. Additionally, services should not end with only the completion of deliverables. Remember, value can mean different things to different stakeholders across the organization. The delivery of services without implementation of ideas is often meaningless. Another great indicator of a consultant’s value is the professional growth, success, and eventual promotion for a client due, in part, to a consulting engagement.
These are just a few of my thoughts regarding the role of consultants, and I look forward to your feedback. Have you worked with consultants in the past, and what did you experience? What would you recommend to a consultant that wishes to support your company?