The role of a consultant

Businesses evolve. They don't just turn up one day with everything working. 

Few take the time to set up with clear systems, processes, management behaviours, structures and behaviours right from the beginning. In reality, businesses evolve as the market place evolves. New people come into your business, or leave. You get new technology or the environment in which you operate changes and you adapt.

Yet, when problems arise, you need to take a step back and assess what is working and what isn't.

You need to revisit your vision and purpose and assess whether you are still on the right path. You may have taken a wrong path or purposefully changed direction without updating your toolkit.

Business can become a tangled mess and the layers, interdependencies, behaviours and culture that evolve create complexity.  One turn of the dial here can have significant impact on a process further down the line. Updating a working policy can cause all kind of legal and contractual headaches. One person leaving can leave huge gaps in knowledge or rock the team dynamics. It is difficult to see the cause, and only see the effect, so you try to fix the issue, not the real issue. 

And here is a big truth that you might not want to hear...

You often can't see what is in front of you because you have become embedded or "institutionalised" in the business. 

If you were once employed into the business, in those first few weeks and months, you could probably see all of the issues in the business. You were an outsider with looking with objective eyes. Soon, you become part of the organisation. You make decisions, hire people, change things and begin to add value. And you become emotionally involved. You care. You turn a blind eye to things that were staring you in the face when you first started. You understand how complex things really are and focus on the quick and easy wins and leave the hard stuff for another day. Except that day rarely comes.

If you really want to be a strategic leader, you need to become a consultant in your own business from time to time.

A consultant specialises in specific areas of expertise and is able to take an holistic view of the business to assess all of the issues and focus on a specific outcome or objective. 

I can't tell you how many times I have run focus groups where members say, "We have told management about this before. Why do we need a consultant?" It is a fair challenge. If managers and leaders acted on all problems and concerns then they probably wouldn't need an outsider. However, in truth, the issues are often so small in the early days that they don't warrant attention, until they become big problems. The leaders can't remain objective enough or have the time and space to "look" at their business as an organisation, through multiple layers and complexities. They are not consultants.

Yet, than can learn to become a consultant in their business and improve the work that they do.

A consultant is involved in the planning, implementation and education and evolution of businesses. They identify blocks and barriers to performance, develop a plan, identify opportunities and develop skills and development areas for success.

When you are working in the business, it's hard to step back and work on the business. Leaders try. They have quarterly strategy sessions, away days and come back with clarity of direction. However, they often forget to diagnose the underlying issues and complex relationships and very little changes. 

Before you even create a strategy, you must diagnose the real issues and before you do that, you need to ensure someone is able to interpret the information. The analysis of the information is critical.

You could create a simple questionnaire to gather information, or create forums, working groups, feedback loops or get data from within business systems and reports. Focus on the central question, your hypothesis and then find the right approach to gather information to answer the question.

Now you are ready to analyse. What is the information telling you?

You really do need to remain objective here. Many of the decisions or actions that lead to the "issue" were ones that you, as the leader were involved in. Perhaps you bought the technology, hired that person, designed the process, and now you find it isn't working, you might defend or deflect attention. You might be too close, so must practice detachment. 

I recommend being inclusive in the diagnosis stage. My including others you will gain new insights, different experiences and perspectives that adds richness to your analysis. You might believe something works for you, without understanding the pain and frustration it is causing another team or even your customers. You might find a quick fix, not aware of the implications on other systems and processes. Creating an inclusive culture is critical in creating success.

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