Love to hate ’em, Management Consultants are an established fixture of the business world. The best way to maximize their value in your own enterprise is to understand and leverage the key benefits they can bring to your work.
Recent experience in management consulting has allowed me to render-out four key areas of general value that any external consultant operating at a strategic level [we’re not talking individual contributors here, like a freelance developer or analyst] brings to the table. Of course, each competing firm may provide specific assets or capabilities that differentiate it within the larger marketplace. But on the most basic level, these are the four top benefits that any management consultant can bring to bear for your enterprise.
We don’t work here
The first and most powerful benefit that any external consultant brings is the simple fact that they don’t work at your firm. We walk in without any of the prejudices, internal mythologies, or socialized limitations that might be woven directly into the fabric of your department or company. We’re short-timers, so don’t really have to care about the superstitions or internal threats that may muzzle FTEs, whether they consciously realize it or not. Corporate bullies hold much less sway over those who won’t be around to suffer the reprisals upon which their power is based. Operating without personal historical perspective, your consultant will likely question policies and process that are treated internally as ‘settled law’.
The process of crawling back through some of these previously established and assumed attributes of the business may spark even internal resources to ponder, “Actually, why the Hell DO we do it that way?…” And that’s when we all start really winning.
In business, the most precious resource of all is MOMENTUM, which breaks the inertia that can be such a drag to productivity across teams. Among the greatest foils to momentum is ‘churn’, the everyday tumble of demands and priorities that force resources to divide their attention and fracture their time. Management consultants can help to generate and sustain momentum with their singular focus on the very few issues or opportunities stipulated in the statement of work or related contractual documentation. Only getting paid to fix “X” turns out to be a fantastic mitigation against having your attention diverted by “Y”. To the extent that the agenda of an organization at any moment is defined by the specific focus of the majority of its resources, consultants can also help by rallying the maximum number of people to a cause.
Only getting paid to fix “X” turns out to be a fantastic mitigation against having your attention diverted by “Y”
The simple fact is that it can be difficult for the internal team to generate adequate focus around any single strategic initiative amid the s#itstorm of tactical firefighting that defines most of our daily lives. Introducing an external party with its eye solely laid upon that single strategic issue can be a great way to generate momentum and get the job done.
Among the most esteemed analytic around the success of a working environment is employee retention rate. And for good reason. The cost of losing even a middle management leader, in terms of productivity, institutional knowledge, trusted relationships, and business expertise, can be incalculable. Among the most successful, long-standing firms with which my own company does business, average tenure runs well-over a dozen years. That’s laudable, to be sure.
The quiet drawback to this scenario is that these excellent firms end up peopled by resources who have very little intimate visibility about how the rest of the industry functions. Their robust expertise in the functioning of their own firm, itself a big potential boost to momentum, comes at the expense of intelligence about how others tackle similar problems. And the truth is that many businesses in the same industry may operate in markedly different ways. A constant source of drag and frustration in your firm might have already been solved by a competitor, or someone upstream/downstream in the supply chain. High-tenure firms lose out on this perspective because they so seldom bring brand new resources into the fold.
Management consulting provides a methodology for firms with long-standing retention rates to combat this lack of external perspective. By working with a consultant who has operated extensively with clients throughout its industry, that firm can capture some of the outside context to which they otherwise would not have access. The founder of my firm refers to this as the, “outside the four walls perspective,” and it can be a powerful benefit of engaging a management consultant in your work.
A firm like mine [read as: expensive] is never engaged without support of senior leadership. In most cases, it is someone in the C-suite who solicits our engagement in the first place. The legal documentation and scoping around this negotiation can be lengthy, but on the far side of that odyssey we emerge with a clear leadership mandate. “The COO is paying these folks big bucks to solve some very specific problems over the next 12 weeks, so everyone needs to lean-in as hard as they can.”
“The COO is paying these folks big bucks to solve some very specific problems over the next 12 weeks, so everyone needs to lean-in as hard as they can.”
How often does any one department or initiative receive that level of socialized leadership support in the regular course of business? When was the last time management was so deliberate in the launch and tracking of an initiative organized solely around internal assets? If that happens on a regular basis in your own org, and the mandate really does drive down to the line-resource level, consider yourself lucky. For most, it’s just a continual tumble through the daily production grind while trying to steal time in the margins to advance identified strategic initiatives.
While it may be a simple byproduct of the legal process of engaging a management consultancy, those consultants walk in with a clear delegation of authority from the most senior level. Leverage that authority with the skills to get people organized around the task at hand and you’ve got the ingredients for kick-ass progress on the initiatives that matter most to leadership.
We’re all just Muggles
In my work as a management consultant during recent months, I’ve seen plenty of victories and defeats during close client collaborations. As with so much in business, expectations are pivotal. Helping clients to have well-calibrated expectations about the areas where management consulting can create potent impact is a huge boost to positive outcomes.
At the risk of stating the obvious: consultants aren’t superheroes. Our brains displace the same average mass as those of the internal resources already on your teams. Aside from an affinity for managing chaos in unfamiliar surroundings, we aren’t any more creative or quantitatively astute than your own employees. We’re just people. Hopefully, friendly and respectful people who balance our drive to attack defined scope in your shop with healthy deference for the concerns and agendas of those who actually work there for a living.
The places where management consultants can bring the biggest benefit are all associated with the basic fact that we aren’t full-time employees. Our lack of deference to commonly-accepted company narratives, our awareness of external solution strategies, our ability to apply momentum-generating focus, and the C-level mandate that accompanies our engagement are all attributes that help us to enter quickly, solve aggressively, and exit quietly for the good of your enterprise.