Did you hear the one about the consultant, the monkey and the computer programmer?
Ask me sometime, it’s way too long to tell now but consultant jokes are fun and they lead to the question, what good is a consultant?
Instead of answering that directly, I’m going to tell you about the consulting task I enjoy most, that in my experience always has a profound impact on the organisation.
I call it a functional review. Its stated goal is to examine how the business works and recommend changes. In reality, what I do is talk with the people in the organisation. All of them if I can, even, literally, the cleaners, over a month or two.
What I invariably discover is that the organisation has some good things going for it and some problems. Not “issues” or “opportunities”, just plain problems, that hold it back.
What I find is that most of these problems are in fact known by people within the organisation. Not necessarily fully known by any one person and not necessarily known by the people who actually should know.
I also find that most of the solutions that are needed are also known, though again perhaps not fully known by any one person and not necessarily known by the people who should be implementing them.
A big part of my task then is to put together a more complete understanding of the problems and the solutions.
Now, working out functional structure by asking people about their job may seem a bit airy fairy, but it’s actually a fast track to reality. For example, one review I reported inadequate working capital as a key issue. The financial manager was a bit miffed because I hadn't asked him for any figures on cash flow and the company was reasonably up to date on payments, so he thought the problem was being managed.
Instead, my findings reflected the reality of front-line staff charged with getting results, who were missing out on sales because they didn’t have stock; marketing people who were seeing opportunities slide because they couldn’t promote to new markets and customer service people who were copping abuse when spare parts were not in stock.
The reality was that working capital restrictions were costing sales, damaging customer relationships and reducing staff satisfaction. I didn’t need a cash flow, because I could measure the problem according to its impact at the customer interface.
That’s an example of how a consultant can deliver real business value in giving a different perspective.
Incidentally, asking people is also a way of solving some of the problems it uncovers, because being asked re-ignites people’s enthusiasm for their jobs and gets them thinking and acting. So consulting is not just a way of defining problems, it can also be a way of starting to solve them.
To use a cliché, consulting is about working on your business, not in it. That’s exactly the position of a consultant, who can ignore the daily noise and focus on underlying issues.
The are more specific examples of what a consultant might be able to do for you on our website, but I’m well aware that a good proportion of consultant jokes are about spinning one obvious fact into a 100 page report.
So here’s the obvious fact: if you want to work on your business and push it forward, you can get a lot out of a consultant who’s prepared to be hands-on and take the time to really understand your organisation.
To make a start at a cost effective rate, call me, Michael Woodhouse.