As a consultant, you are usually involved with one or more customers on a project basis or on a temporary basis. They are unable to solve the tasks themselves and therefore seek external support. This article looks at five valid points of a result-oriented consulting activity to show that the consultant must not play the part of the yes-man or the conflict-averse.
Anyone who works as an external consultant on various projects with their clients will encounter resistance and resentment, especially when it has to do with change consulting. At this point, many probably involuntarily think of the nice phrase, “If a management consultant has finished his work and not every internal party involved has cried at least once, then he has not worked properly”. Admittedly a bit macabre. But at its core, there is a lot of truth in it. Because why do companies bring in a consultant from outside? Because they either lack the knowledge and/or the corresponding skills internally, or they are otherwise tied up and therefore indispensable. So they pay significantly more money for the external consultant than would be necessary for an internal employee to solve their own problems.
This introduction has roughly outlined why companies often pay millions per year for various consultants to come to their aid. Particularly in change management (which also includes digital transformation and digitization), the person who then encounters an enormously habitualized cosmos from decades of turning in on oneself from the outside has a lot of convincing to do. That the mandate for change is there is a nice flag to carry in front of oneself. But in order to work efficiently and with the best possible results, this fact alone doesn’t help.
So what does the digital consultant need to do if he wants to do a good job and, above all, achieve results?
The following five points help answer the question.
1. He puts his finger on the wound
Even if the internal project participants rarely like it: The external consultant must clearly address where problems lie and make recommendations on how to deal with them. This is an important part of their job, for which they are paid accordingly. Top management in particular appreciates it when people around them dare to speak up and take contrary positions if it is beneficial to the project and necessary in terms of content. Internally, very few people dare to do this because, after all, it is “the boss,” the board of directors or the managing director. But even such people have a need for the truth; embellishments often lead to disaster. It is therefore the consultant’s task to clearly identify and name grievances and to work towards changing them.
2. He does not adhere to established structures
It is often difficult to work with external consultants, especially for long-serving employees. At the beginning, people often say, “Oh, that’s just the external consultant. Well, the external consultant is not an internal consultant, but currently no one can do the job better internally, otherwise the external consultant would not be there. A consultant often has the advantage of not having to adhere to the classic corporate hierarchy. If, for example, a project is directly in the hands of the board of directors, the consultant can turn to the board of directors and need fear few consequences internally (as long as he does not use this route excessively), as long as the client’s favor remains intact. This privilege of the external party is often a thorn in the side of other project participants, which is understandable. Therefore, a good consultant must also know how to balance taking shortcuts and, on the other hand, sticking to the procedure.
3. It connects instead of separating
An important characteristic of the consultant must therefore also be to be in good standing with as many stakeholders as possible within the project. The client undoubtedly has a prominent position in this, but the project manager is also enormously important, as are all the executive agencies that must de facto execute the processes to be changed. This is another reason why the wise consultant uses point 2 wisely and only to secure or achieve milestones. Cooperation is much easier if the project team is well sworn in and agrees that everyone has the same overall goals. In the end, everyone involved (usually) wants the project to be a success and to be able to stick a star in their homework book. And as a team, it’s always better to join forces than to fight for something on your own.
4. He thinks radically from the customer
Particularly in the insurance and finance industry, but also within other sectors of the economy, the topics of customer centricity and the necessity of benefit-based sales positioning have not yet arrived across the board. If you consider that virtually no major German insurance company has developed its products on the basis of customer requirements to date, but rather on the basis of the company’s sales strategy and thematic orientation, you soon realize that there is still a great deal of consulting work to be done in these spheres. Since the three essential points of transparency, understanding and trust determine success or failure in the insurance industry, it should be easy to understand, at least from a purely logical point of view, that there must be a customer benefit in order to be able to continue to exist as a service provider in times of transparent markets and simplified processes. But that will probably take a few more years.
5. He sees the big picture
A central point of the outstanding management teachings of Professor Dr. Fredmund Malik, who teaches at the University of St. Gallen, is the guiding principle adopted and further developed by management forefather Peter F. Drucker, namely that it is of immanent importance for a manager to keep the big picture in mind for employees, colleagues, superiors and himself. Although the consultant generally has no authority to issue directives to the internal project participants, he or she may have the technical management (at least of a subarea). And anyone who studies Malik’s management approach a little more deeply also knows that management goes in four, or for some people even in five directions – to subordinates, to colleagues of equal rank, to superiors, to oneself (self-management), and possibly also in the direction of outsiders, such as the press or service providers. So we can see that the consultant also has – at the very least – a very classic management task, especially in an interdisciplinary team. If the internal team has not yet succeeded in agreeing on a common commitment, the consultant can make a huge difference here with his view from the outside (of the big picture).