Consultants, in multiple genres, have been around for thousands of years. History is full of kings, queens, emperors, tsars, presidents and others who used myriads of advisers to direct or misdirect them in all walks of life.
In relatively modern times, management consulting grew at a time when management was establishing itself officially as a unique area of business, although it had certainly existed in essence way before.
Depending on opinion, the first management consultancy was either Arthur D Little in 1886 or Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1893. At issue is what constituted management consultancy at the time, as Arthur Little began as a technical researcher and only repositioned some years later.
Whichever view you support, it is clear that management consulting has come a very long way.
Whilst not exhaustive here are 16 areas that make for an outstanding management consultant nowadays:
Possesses Great Integrity
Integrity has always ranked in the top echelon for consultants generally, but nowadays in the cut and thrust of the competitive environment in which business exists, integrity trumps everything.
If you can’t trust your management consultant, the ball game shouldn’t begin.
Having Meaningful Points of Difference and Parity
Meaningful points of difference are an important attribute for any brand, and management consultants and their firms both constitute brands.
Often creativity and lateral thinking can provide an edge in this regard. Who needs a ‘me too’ approach if you can be inspired.
In addition, points of parity are also essential. These are elements that clients expect all management consultants to have, such as relevant software, analytical skills and good response times, to name but a few.
Points of parity won’t generally be enough to acquire clients, but lacking them often takes you out of play.
Offers Benefits Beyond Functional Ones Alone
Whilst functional benefits such as innovative solutions, etc. rank highly when it comes to benefits offered by management consultants, clients often need more, whether they express it or not.
In addition to functionality, great management consultants also appeal to the emotional and self- expressive sides of their clients, thereby enabling them to experience emotions such as peace of mind, trust, faith, etc.
In addition, some clients seek to align their values with those of the consulting firms they choose. Some examples include social justice and environmental issues.
Adopts a Hands-On Practical Approach, with a Sound Theoretical Background.
Exemplary management consultants generally adopt a hands on practical approach whilst also possessing a solid qualification and theoretical background which they utilise as a frame of reference.
Beware of management ‘consultants’ who knock the latter as whilst there is no substitute for experience and ability, those with professional qualifications to add to their skills and experience perform better in the vast majority of instances.
Nimble and Flexible Approach
Successful management consultants display nimble and flexible abilities and initiate appropriate solutions, as required.
Smaller companies can use this to major advantage as large competitors often take far longer to implement shifts, having to overcome burdens brought about by red tape, size and a cumbersome infrastructure.
Skills to Accurately Assess the Past, yet Focus Firmly on the Future
Past situations and outcomes are most important to learn from and to use as a yardstick moving forward. This is why many consultants undertake situational analyses.
Once having drilled down and assessed the past it is important to use whatever is relevant to help develop the best strategy, tactics and outcomes, moving forward.
Has the Ability to Think Holistically Both Inside and Outside the Box
Many management consultants advertise their ability to think outside the box, or square as it is also called. Guess what, management consultants who do best are able to think inside and outside the box, often producing an amalgam that does wonders.
In addition, an excellent management consultant will consider solutions that align with the organisation overall and not deal with situations in silos. For example, your organisation’s core mission and values should not be inconsistent with what brands under its umbrella offer, and the manner in which this is communicated.
Combines Analytical and Creative Skills
Having analytical skills coupled with the ability to analyse and assess is great, but combining this with creative insight and applications attains even more.
Taking Cognisance of Trends and Technical Advances, yet Not abandoning Classic Inputs
Whilst it’s imperative to keep up with current issues, advances and trends it’s equally important to not simply discard classic principles simply to be fashionable.
In brand development, for example, whilst apps and social media have created many new customer touch points, the wisdom to retain classic areas such as situational analyses and building a solid brand identity, including personality, is as valid as ever.
Understanding the Need to Listen
Listening is one of the most important areas for management consultants. It’s essential to learn from, and ‘hear people’ across an organisation, yet not take bias on board.
Being Skilled at Communications and Collaboration Across all Levels
Management consultants of note generally take instructions from top management but often need to communicate and collaborate with stakeholders, both internal and external, across many levels.
These actions carry with them responsibility and require relevant skills to undertake, interpret and manage. Everyone, irrespective of who they are, needs to be treated with respect at all times. If this is not observed negativity soon colours everything.
Having Exemplary Client Servicing and Mentoring Skills
Superior management consultants possess exemplary client servicing and mentoring skills that provide customers and stakeholders with value, significantly above the norm.
Are proactive and Don’t Wait for Others to Lead
Exemplary management consultants are proactive and are generally ahead of the pack when it comes to alerting clients of important issues and providing advice.
Whether or not the advice is adopted is another matter, but from a client perspective it’s great to know that your consultant is constantly looking out for you.
Does Not Confuse Strategy with Planning, or other Tactical Issues
Some management consultants still confuse strategy with planning and other tactical issues. Strategy should always precede planning, individual tactics and creative execution.
Strategy can be defined in many ways but simply put business strategy represents a company’s optimal choice about where it will compete moving forward, how it will create, communicate, and capture superior value for customers and other stakeholders, and ultimately how it will best generate superior profits for itself.
Competitors apply different choices in the marketplace in many respects, including the optimal use of scarce resources, as perceived.
The best strategy, well executed, will triumph.
Conveys a positive attitude and respects others
It’s important for consultants to convey a positive image and not create negativity even where there are major issues to resolve.
Clients want solutions not problems.
Excellent consultants also respect the views of others even if they do not subscribe to them.
At the end of the day it is always up to the client as to whether to go ahead with a consultant’s recommendations or not and if they don’t, their decision needs to be respected.
Strives to Keep Company Politics and Big Egos out of Play
Professional management consultants need to be objective and not take sides within organisations. Getting involved in internal politics often leads to negative outcomes.
Apart from poor ethics, management consultants who play the political game may side with Julius Caesar today, but find themselves answering to Brutus tomorrow, with consequences to match. I have witnessed this in companies internationally, on many occasions.
Big egos are also a real turnoff to management and other stakeholders. Leave them at the door. Please.