Home > Consulting, Strategies > “Consultants Tell You What You Already Know; Only in a Fancy Presentation”

“Consultants Tell You What You Already Know; Only in a Fancy Presentation”

a consultant will help give a clear perspective on something that's already thereClassroom debates. Put a bunch of strong-minded individuals into a room and you’re bound to get many different, sometimes provoking, often equally valid comments.

This article’s title was posed as a discussion question recently in an online forum I subscribe to. Since it’s literally a universal issue, I’m broaching the topic head-on and attempting to settle the apprehensive stance many companies have about consultants.

Here, a truly diverse group of international business leaders give their opinions on the topic.
Krisztina (Krisz) Nadasi – AAM Consulting Ltd (Hungary)
I must say I often met such cases when a company just needed someone independent to make them face a problem they had, or a solution they had to implement, like a teacher telling the students to do the homework on the next page. In this situation I consider the consultant’s added value is the independence.

Juan Sotolongo – Partner, 722 Consulting (Pittsburgh, USA)
Hello Krisz….I agree with your comment, and would add that even when a company knows the problem and the solution, the internal politics can get in the way of progress. A consultant can say things in meetings that cut to the core of the issues, and move the implementation progress forward, where before it had stagnated due to internal politics.

Peter Vida – Director, optiSELL (Aus)
I believe a consultants role is not to provide a solution (as implied by your question) but to provide a framework for assessing issues and comparison with best practice benchmarks. The solution is defined collaboratively with the client.

Furthermore it is the responsibility of the consultant to provide an implementation structure and manage (outcomes only) development processes until goals are achieved. Note, I am not suggesting hands on project management but something more like high level program management.

Ravi Ramanathan (India)
Business consultants are not silver bullets. A good consultant will always first build consensus with the organization that he/she consults to by stating the challenges as they are (those that you already know) but will proceed to analyze these challenges through association with similar situations that other organizations have faced and his/her own experience in solving those.

Consultants should be looked at as catalysts for informed decision making rather than as decision makers on your behalf. It is their very “outside the organization” status that gives them an opportunity to not have biases and vested interests that will hamper decision making likely in those that are within the organization. This then brings about a different dimension in situation analysis and decision points that they will recommend.

Eventually it is the organization that hires the help of these consultants that will take the decisions on how to meet the challenges faced (with the help of the consultants) and also take ownership for the implementation. Before hiring external consultants one needs to set their expectations clearly and realistically.

Steve Hennel (Detroit, USA)
I wonder: How did this happen to begin with? Who was so out of touch with your operation that they felt the need to call in consultants, but didn’t know what you already know? A serious disconnect within your current internal operation…

Arne Klingenberg – CEO, World4Brains.com (Aus)
That statement is obviously poking fun at old-fashioned consultancies that charged big bucks for a junior consultant/freshman doing a bit of a presentation… these days are well and truly over I think.

As for my experience, last week a CEO listened to my 20 min. presentation and was totally flabbergasted, saying no one has ever analyzed his business in such a short and precise way and that he didn’t know 95% of the information presented. The next day he completely abandoned a project (500’000 already invested) and took the first steps to implement the new overall strategy presented.

Also, clients at my crowdsourced consulting and innovation startup comment very positively about the speed and quality of advice they receive, besides the unbelievable value for the money. If a consultancy doesn’t provide real value it will not succeed. It’s as simple as that.

Ron Pinto (Canada)
Hello guys, it isn’t that they know or don’t know.
I worked on a project where the Top Client’s goal was to double their production, and I was hired after they tried everything they could think of.
After implementation and production duplicated, the question came up: “How did you do that?” I explained that it was very simple, actually: I made sure that we all agreed on what was the best they could do, and to my surprise it was beyond what was necessary to achieve double production. Then I put in place some scheduling controls and procedures. Bingo!
Now that they knew what was expected they did it and there were no complaints, as the expectation was not at the top of the limits.
I told them that only new thing that was introduced was communicating expectations and follow-up to remove barriers to the performance, which is something very important in a company.
The Top Client said, surprised, “but we know all that!”, but they never thought of using it.
So yes, they knew the solution, but forgot to use it.

Jim Smith – CEO, Enterprise Management Group (Seattle, USA)
They know the problem, and they think they know the answer, but aren’t sure. The ones that are sure aren’t going to be calling a consultant.

Suppose you’re very sick and pretty sure brain surgery is called for, do think you might request a second opinion?

Bernard Lo (Singapore)
I have heard a similar critique: “Engaging consultants is like paying some to tell you the time”. I feel strongly that fancy presentations may get you some attention, but it is delivery of real value and solutions for the client that counts.

Steve Hennel (Detroit, USA)
There should always be at least some areas of the operation that the client is aware of the issues. When we reinforce what they already know ([it’s] not all bad), because we become an ally to fix the problem. Often time upper management might claim they weren’t aware. Some of this is probably true, but some of this involves issues that have been swept under the rug. The supervisors and workers generally almost always know because they live the issues. When these issues are presented to upper management (again) in addition to the fact that supervisors downward have previously raised these same issues, it becomes our meal ticket to win the supervisors and workers over. It’s like; “see the external experts are agreeing with us”. In most cases, the supervisors and workers are aware that we’ve somewhat put the ball in upper management’s court. Now: “Are we really going to all work together to address these issues we’ve been dealing with?” We have laid the foundation for totally united teamwork and potential solutions. While we prefer that the client come-up with the solutions, we will offer some too. The foundation has been created, so off we go!

Joan Tyner – CEO of the Tyner Group, a Cincinnati strategic consultancy, and former strategy executive at Thomson Reuters and The Gartner Group. (USA)
Knowing “what” the problem/issue is isn’t the same as knowing “how” to solve it. Whether it’s anemic growth, declining profitability or waning market share, a good consultant first confirms the internal diagnosis of the problem and its sources, then develops a framework for solving it, including appropriate analysis, options identification, prioritization and implementation planning.

What consultants offer that internal managers often can’t are: 1) advanced analytical skills — unlike many internal leaders focused on sales, marketing, operations, etc., consultants make their living solving the same problems over and over in different companies; 2) time, credibility and executive fiat to perform the required analysis — even the most skilled managers are typically overwhelmed with running the business or their particular function; few (with the exception of well-staffed internal strategy groups)have the time or resources to perform the comprehensive analysis required to solve major business issues; 3) political objectivity — depending on the issue, internal managers can get defensive when “problems” implicate what they view as their turf and may resist the diagnosis of the problem and/or the recommended solution.

This isn’t to say that the internal perspective isn’t critical to problem-solving — merely that consultants bring another set of hands and point of view to the table.

Armando Camarillo – Interim Mgr Group iCEO, CEO Europe Group – CEO Central America (Mexico City)
Being a consultant myself, let me share with the group:

10 reasons why business consultants are hired:

To provide a “short-cut” to know-how, knowledge and information that does not exist in the organization
To provide a professional service that does not exist in the organization, or that is needed for a specified period of time
To provide solutions to specific challenges and situations
To validate ideas that have already been created in the organization
To analyze, diagnose or criticize (constructively)
To facilitate the search for ideas and solutions with existing team members
To facilitate, create and implement methodologies and systems that enhance efficiency and organization
To access a network of business or government contacts
To bring in an experienced “outsiders” evaluation and point of view
To present, teach or implement “new” business ideas and procedures

I´ve seen variations of this list in several sources. Still, this time I will like to credit Lee Iwan for this version http://tinyurl.com/27nhfew

Kamran Gharachorlou – MD Consultancy Services, Business Improvement Consultants (London, UK)
We, as consultants, sometimes do get accused of this.

My response, whenever a prospective client states ‘you have not told us anything that we do not already know’, is this: –

Well, why have you not done anything about it?! or if you have tried, why do you think you have not been successful at resolving the issues?

We identify the root causes of the client’s problems and help them to eliminate it, using our experience and know how

We also have the ability to dedicate a full time, trained and experience resource to the program. Something that most clients do not have.

Uday Gokhale PhD, Pharma Strategist (India)
1. Very interesting question. I understand that the question refers to the ‘content’ of PPT [powerpoint].

2. Some times consultants tell you what you already know , sometimes they fail even to do so !

3. I always remember that the audience (client’s employees ) is fairly in know of issues and most of the times has plenty solutions available too. They just want ‘an outsider’ platform or a person who can glue the critical problem solvers together.

4. Most of the times my audience is of younger age-group and they ARE well connected and net-worked. They hate to listen to the standard ‘win-win ‘ etc phrases. They also hate to share their views with a guy who comes out as a ‘know it all’ hotshot thru his PPT.

5. My beginning bullet says : you will not find anything here which is already available on Google . This sets a tone for arriving at novel in-roads into the challenge on hand.

6. One among my next bullets says : Over next xyz months I am going to be with you folks and I am not going to complain to the top management if you couldn’t spare time for interacting with me. It’s just you and me. It’s going to be my failure not to catch your attention and I don’t want to fail.

7. The reflection of sincerity and ‘bare foot approach’ in PPT usually wins the heart of client-employed audience. The persons among them who really want to ‘get it over with’ begin opening up during interactive sessions. On their background, one can easily make out the persons who would prove to be obstinate mules in the weeks to come.

Clever PPT decides your success.
It’s a hot topic and weeks later, it’s still drawing comments from different members. As a consultant, I’m less than objective in this discussion so I battled to find many downsides to hiring me. I noticed, however, that it pretty much comes down to trust and value which are key factors in any relationship so here’s a short checklist to find out if you’re ready to hire that consultant.

1. Check the consultant’s credentials, reputation and meet with them.
2. If you don’t strike an understanding about your business, walk away.
3. If you clash personalities, you won’t be able to open up honestly about your business and the consultant won’t feel comfortable getting the information he / she needs. Walk away.
4. You need to let go of the reigns a little to allow for inspection and appraisal.
5. The consultant needs to put forward their best work for results and then let it go.
6. You need to have an open mind when receiving the proposal. What you need may not be as drastic as you expect but clearly some changes are necessary to get different business results.
7. The consultant respects and conforms to the company’s modus operandi and must be able to stretch the business the right amount for the growth required.

If they’re waving a wand around your office promising the world, be wary; consultants aren’t magicians but trust in their skills and expect realistic results. Ultimately, client and consultant are working on the same team.

Disclaimer: These comments formed part of an open forum. Permission was obtained to use them and they are only valid in the context of the discussion. They are the opinions of the professionals quoted and not necessarily of the organisations they may be employed by. Quotes used within the discussion by any member are conversational to make a point and not in any way claimed to be the commentator’s own.

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