Everyone has heard the quip about the definition of a consultant.
Someone who borrows your watch and then tells you the time
And I won’t deny it. But I would like to expand the metaphor.
Let’s start with why organisations turn to consultants:
We can sum up the value of consultants in four words, albeit with some definition
Expertise Time Confidence Consensus
Consultants are benefit driven. Of course, some consultants only make recommendations, and there may be a time and place for that. But you probably want change not presentations.
These are not the consultants you are looking for
And good consultants employ a range of skills to help you achieve your goals. Most of those skills are transferable between organisations and sectors but rarely used on a day-to-day basis. Don’t ask your team to swot up on change management, business analysis and project management. Instead, employ a consultant to deliver your change from the development of a business case to managing benefits.
In the watch metaphor, the consultant reads the time and interprets the data. Perhaps, converting from analogue to digital, between time zones or the 12 and 24 hour clocks.
You and your team are busy. And being busy is anathema to self-managed change.
- You don’t have time to prep, plan and engage. As a result, you could rush in where angels fear to tread (not that consultants are angels).
- – A consultant doesn’t just take work off your plate; she assures the quality of your planning.
- At every meeting, you risk going down operational rabbit holes.
- – The consultant helps you make the most of your time with excellent organisation and superb facilitation.
- Even as some team members get busy, others never complete their actions.
- – As coach and advocate, the consultant identifies and resolves the issues delaying your project.
When it comes to time, extending the watch metaphor can quickly go awry. The consultant cleans up the watch and winds it. She will put it on display so that the whole team can quickly tell the time.
When the perfect starts to threaten the good*, everyone needs the confidence to stop planning and start doing. At the other end of the spectrum, a good team has the confidence to say no – and offer an alternative. But lots of things get in the way including culture and fear. A consultant listens to everyone and makes a call – whether that is to start work or stop it.
And does this have a metaphorical equivilent? Yes, the consultant will check the watch is accurate and fix it when it is running fast (or slow).
*Have you noticed two phrases that sound similar but have different meanings? Good [enough] is the enemy of best rallies against complacency. On the other hand the idea that striving for perfection can prevent any benefit is common in writing from Confusious to Shakespeare (and some modern authors too).
A strong personality or the history of an organisation can swerve focus onto goals and solutions from a single perspective. The leader of change has to encourage contributions from everyone, get behind each conflicting opinion and drive consensus. But the same issues that divide opinion make this a difficult (and thankless) task. Rather than hand a poisoned chalice to a member of your team, ask a consultant to unite team members and stakeholders.
In the watch metaphor, this is akin to collecting the bits of a broken watch, no matter each piece is hidden, and then rebulding it. Only then telling you the right time.
Do you need a consultant?
If you need to change to remain competitive but your team is busy, a consultant can define and deliver your goals.
If you need the skills of change, a consultant can coach, mentor and train your team.
If you have a poor experience of consultants, ask potential providers how they will provide expertise, save you time, give you confidence and build consensus.