I have heard many people ask “What is a consultant?” or “What does a consultant actually do?” The answers can be just as wild as the questions, and vary from “magic” and “snake water salesman” to “Godsend” and “miracle worker.”
What causes these descriptions to teeter at the edges of the spectrum comes down to two things: expectations and experiences. By explaining what a consultant does, you can understand what a consultant is.
First, let’s discuss successful expectations you should have when working with a consultant by stepping through three things a consultant offers.
1. A consultant offers outside perspective
One of the best services a consultant can offer is an outside perspective. They don’t know your organization’s history. Consultants don’t know you’re culture or your training.
Every organization has its own culture. Sometimes the culture is created by the owners and directors of the company. Other times it develops on its own over time, based on the personalities of the employees. Either way, the consultant hasn’t been absorbed into this culture, so they are able to offer an outside perspective.
Culture can get in the way of making decisions. Doing things again because it’s “the way we’ve always done it,” is not a dead-end track. That itself is pretty common knowledge (and readily available in most business self-help books), but this can also rear its head in more subtle ways. A good consultant can help you identify those more subtle ways that culture keeps you from achieving full business value by providing an outside perspective.
2. A consultant provides an objective point of view
One thing most business owners have that kills their business value potential is emotional attachment. The attachment is built through time. It’s built through time and money invested. It’s built through hope, dreams and aspirations.
None of these things are bad, but it can be very hard to scrap a process you’ve built, your creation.
Consultants don’t have that emotional attachment. The products, services, or processes that you’ve created were not designed or created by the consultant, so they are free from any ties to the status quo.
An objective viewpoint from a consultant can free your future decisions from the blinders of attachment. This frees you to make the best decisions for your company, whether it’s to continue old patterns or create new opportunities.
3. A consultant encourages an honest exchange with employees
No matter how open a relationship is between a business owner or manager and their direct reports, there is always some reservation. There is some hindrance in any communication in the chain of command.
Employees have great insight into the workings of your company. They see the processes every day. They can see when there are inefficiencies. The men and women sitting in your office know what works and what doesn’t, and they have ideas to make your business better.
Many times, this hard-working community is not given the chance to provide appropriate feedback to their superiors. It’s hard to flow upstream. Hiring a consultant can provide a confidential and conducive environment for sharing the company’s pitfalls and/or opportunities.
This honest exchange cultivates a feeling of trust and respect. The objective viewpoint from the consultant ensures that all ideas, big or small, are considered and weighed on merit. There’s no history to block the free-flow conversations.
Helping set up the right expectations is only part of the battle. Once you know what a consultant can do for you, it’s easy to weigh your experiences against the expectations.
Not all consultants will be able to provide the experience and the services required to meet keep your business moving forward and driving business value. Just because you have had a bad experience in the past, your company might still benefit from a consultant coming in to provide an outside, objective point of view.