Consultants and Consultancy Firms: Why, Who, When and Where Can We Find the Best?

Why is it that we, humans, are often so impressed with someone’s nationality, the PHD after their name, rather than being impressed with something that will add value to our endeavors?

This story is written about XYZ Country, where it seems that people are more focused on where the ‘consultant’ comes from rather than guaranteeing that the consultant will actually provide a return on the investment of hiring him/her in the first place.

Is Imported Always Better?

The Board Room was filled with smoke and the lively banter of executives exchanging opinions on the latest intelligence regarding national and company politics. They were expecting Dr. Harvey Walnose Suspenderbottom, a management consultant from overseas. As Dr. Suspenderbottom entered the room with his shock of red hair and his broad smile, he was greeted with a standing ovation.

There had been a big build up for his long-awaited visit. The company was facing a deep crisis and his coming was regarded as the first step towards salvation. Individual introductions were made amid the hospitality of coffee, tea, juice and French pastry. An impressive introduction was given by the company President extolling the achievements and professional acumen of Dr. Suspenderbottom.

After consuming a very expensive 30 minutes of consulting time with social repartee, the meeting was called to order.

Dr. H.W.S: Good morning Gentlemen. It is wonderful to be here. I am very impressed with what I have seen so far and look forward to listening to your views on the present status of your company this morning.

President: Gentlemen, I would like each of you to present to Dr. Suspenderbottom your status report on conditions in your department.

Executive 1: First, I am responsible for…. In the past five years, we have…. I think the best solution is to reorganize the company like this…. (30 minutes)

Executive 2: (The same as above for another 30 minutes).

Executives 3, 4 and 5provide a repeat performance.

President: I would like to take this opportunity to sum up and present my views and recommendations now that you have heard everyone’s point of view. You see, this company was started by my father in…. (After about an hour, the President ended his presentation).

Dr. H.W.S: Well gentlemen that was very informative; I have noted down all the salient points.

President: We would like to know what your opinion is.

Dr. H.W.S: There is a lot of information to digest here. I would certainly need a good deal of time to reflect on what I’ve heard. I’ll definitely provide a full analysis and recommendations in my report.

After about four hours of intensive listening, Dr. Suspenderbottom was quite exhausted. He placed his elbow firmly on the arm rest of his chair and eased himself off his chair ever so slightly in the same direction. He noted with quiet amusement that a number of others in the room followed his example.

He was struck by the fact that there was such a scant amount of documentation in the host organization. In a way, that would make his task much lighter as he wouldn’t have to read through tons of company papers and reports. It would, however, make his recommendations less reliable than he would wish.

The meeting was finally adjourned at 1:30 p.m.. The executives honored Dr. Harvey W. Suspenderbottom with a sumptuous and very costly lunch which ended at 4:30 p.m., by which time everyone was feeling heavy with food and hazy with drink. Our overseas consultant wondered how he was going to write his report and file it before he flew off to his next assignment in another country. Dinner was an equally awesome affair at which our consultant met some of the shareholders in the organization. Nevertheless, he managed to write his report in the early hours of the morning, file it under ‘XYZ Country Assignment’ and prepare for the early flight out of this historic city.

XYZ country’s culture, Harvey reflected, was not easy to understand. He wondered whether he had got it right or not, and whether there weren’t any good XYZ country consultants around. The time he had spent was very pleasant indeed, but was it really going to be cost effective to the company?

He would have liked to have access to much more data than was available. He would have liked to know the language of XYZ country so he could form his own impressions of what different people’s views were. As things stood, he had to rely heavily only on those who spoke his language. He was also surprised at the relaxed pace of his itinerary. Time did not seem to be of the essence. In fact, it was wantonly squandered. But then, who was he to complain if people were willing to spend their money that way. With these thoughts, Harvey fell into a deep sleep dreaming of his next assignment in the next country.

Two weeks after his departure the company received a detailed and professionally presented report from Dr. Suspenderbottom. They were surprised to see so many of their own thoughts and recommendations in that report. It seemed that the famous doctor had agreed with almost all of what they had said and recommended. They felt very proud that their thoughts were almost identical with his and that his recommendations fitted in exactly with their projected plans. The main worry the good doctor seemed to have is who would be responsible for seeing through the implementation and follow up phases of the proposed changes.

Yes! Who indeed will be responsible for doing the actual implementation and follow up, the hard grinding detailed work necessary for quality results. Are there really no XYZ local professionals with enough brains and integrity to provide excellence in the performance of their work? Isn’t it about time we stopped being overawed by imported talent and encouraged some of our own? Up to this point we have done a spectacular job of exporting some of our best human resources and a good deal of our money in the form of extremely high fees. There has to be a time when we start trusting ourselves by believing that we too can deliver quality, and quality enhanced by a profound understanding of our culture.

There is a need, at times, to import talented professionals who specialize in specific areas. However, when considering hiring a consultant or professional to assist in the restructuring of an organization, it is worth considering the following points:

  1. Will the consultant have an understanding of the culture in which your organization operates?

  2. Does the consultant understand your vision? Where you see your company in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years?

  3. Will the consultancy report at the end of the project actually be practically applicable in your organization, your market, your industry and/or your country?

The underlying fact is that we do need to rethink our service and product offerings on a fundamental level. We do need to go beyond our current capabilities, be innovative, inquisitive and to be proactive in our assessment of potential future needs and expectations of our customers. If we want to differentiate ourselves, be a leader rather than a follower in our industry, we must move forward aggressively.

Often to be aggressive, we need an objective, third-party to observe, analyze and identify ways in which we may adjust, modify and/or create new processes of operation to better ensure we are capable and have the necessary resources (both materialistic and human) to successfully implement the changes that will be necessary to compete effectively and profitably.

However, we need a qualified, consultant or consultancy firm – not just based on nationality, degrees, etc… rather based on competency and experience – to look at our delivery model, analyze and understand our support infrastructure, ensure that we have the correct tools, that we are aware of our industry’s best practices, that we can expand existing processes and procedures to guarantee client satisfaction and ensure our sustainability and growth.

Price is, of course a consideration. But to coin a common phrase, “you get what you pay for”, is a very relevant fact. When comparing and choosing an outside consultant, it is essential that we have a specific list of criterion that will enable us to fully and accurately analyze and then make a decision as to who or which consultancy firm will best meet our immediate and future needs and be best able to provide us with the deliverable that will better guarantee our forward progress towards future success.