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French Version

Contrast : A consultant or a deputy-manager ?

As demand for consulting is on the rise in our region, it becomes vital to define what is a consultant. Confusion, over what consulting is and what consultants do, carries the potential of causing serious problems for organizations. Many clients feel disgruntled about their consultantsí recommendations, which they usually feel are either too ideal or too high-leveled for their use.

The validity of these complaints depends on the original agreement between the consultant and the client, and the mutually agreed upon deliverables. Sometimes complaints can be due to a consultantís failure to set the right client expectations; other times it can be a sign of passive resistance towards change from the side of the client. A consultant is a person with influence over a decision but with no direct power to implement that decision. Once the client gives the consultant the direct power of implementation, the consultant turns into a deputy-manager. Any time one has direct power over implementation, he is no longer a consultant.

Every time someone recommends, he is acting in the capacity of a consultant. Under this definition, one can find consultants working from within an organization. These are called Internal Consultants. These consultants are employees of a certain firm, given the temporary or permanent task of offering advice or recommendations to the organization. People who fall under this category can fit anywhere in the organizational hierarchy, starting from the very top of the organization. Chief information, financial, project, and technology officers all can take on the internal consultant role, either temporarily, or permanently. External consultants, on the other hand, are subcontracted to offer recommendations to the client organization. They are also consultants because they can only recommend, but have no direct power to implement a decision.

Sometimes consultants are requested by clients to lead the implementation of the proposed recommendations, which is beyond the original consultation. For instance, when the client organization gives the task of implementing the recommendations to the consultant himself who made them, then the consultant in the new implementation role is not a consultant any more, but more of an implementer, or a deputy-manager. It is the responsibility of the consultant to deal with the issues and concerns clients have with consulting and consultants, especially when it comes to setting the client expectations from the beginning of the assignment. This can be done through a startup meeting, or meetings if necessary. The goal of these meetings is to build client awareness.

Issues to be discussed in these meetings must include the role of the consultant, the deliverables to be expected, the required amount of client participation, the amount of work that still needs to be done after the consultantís role is done, and how much support should the client expect from the consultant during implementation. Spending enough time with the client to discuss these issues is vital to the success of the consultation. The client also has a role in preventing the failure or substandard delivery of a consulting initiative. He or she should be willing to participate proactively in the early discussions over these issues, and involve upper-level management as well as their representatives in the discussion. Much of the disfavor associated with consulting comes from the actions of people who confuse the roles of consultants and deputy-managers.

The key to understanding the consultantís role is to be able to differentiate it from that of a deputy-manager. When a manager asks someone to do a report on his behalf, design, or implement a system for him, that person is acting as his deputy, not a consultant. Someone would be consulting when: Proposing changes, providing training, assessing, or making recommendations. It is necessary to understand the skills a consultant must possess in order to be able to set the right expectations of the client and deal with the passive and active resistance to change. There are three types of skills: Technical, interpersonal, and consulting. The technical aspect includes skills in a specific technical field, such as programming, project management, engineering Öetc.

Interpersonal skills include listening, communicating ideas, and maintaining healthy working relationships. Consulting skills include negotiating, gathering data, and funneling and presenting information. Skills are gained through practice and experience, not through classroom training. Some clients believe hiring big consulting firms is enough to guarantee successful results. They soon find out that skilled consultants, with clear understanding of their role, are the real key for success.
Please send comments, feedback, or suggestions to amango@methodcorp.com

Amar W Mango
The Star

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