The driver of the BMW had completed his job for the day. He had a signed contract for a lucrative piece of work and rather than race to the motorway he decided to take things easy, enjoy a beautiful summer’s day and the rolling Devon countryside. As he motored along the gentle lanes he noticed a passing place and decided to pull and enjoy the scenery. He stood at the gate and watched a shepherd working with his sheep.
The shepherd soon noticed him and came up to the gate to see what he wanted. He explained that he didn’t want anything he was just enjoying the day. However if he could tell the shepherd exactly how many sheep he had in his field right from where he was without entering the field could he have one of his sheep- a wager of sorts. The shepherd agreed and said he would come back in 20 minutes.
The driver set to work in the car and soon had a an image of the field on his laptop and with the clever software he had loaded the system calculated one hundred and fifty eight “bodies”- subtract one for the shepherd and the total sheep count was 157. He went confidently back to the gate.
“One hundred and fifty seven” he told the shepherd.
“Exactly right” replied the shepherd. “Choose your sheep”
The driver chose what he thought was a healthy looking sheep and the shepherd helped him load it into the boot of the car.
“Before you drive off,” said the shepherd, “if I can tell you exactly what you do for a living may I have that sheep back and a choice of one of your electrical devices?” A sort of double or quits.
“Ok,” replied the driver- a bit of a betting man and he was having a good day.
“You are management consultant”
“How did you know that?”
“Well, you look like a management consultant, you came out here and used a lot of clever techniques to tell me what I knew already and charged me a sheep for it. On top of that, the sheep you have in your boot is a dog!”
- Consultants can be valuable in helping you look objectively at your organisation, especially if you are too busy working in the organisation to do so. Are you?
- Consultants can bring missing expertise and perspectives to the table. Where are your gaps?
- It’s your job to ensure they deliver ‘value’ – so, what is value and how will you measure it?
- Consultants need to gather information, but should you pay them simply for providing information you already know? Maybe, if that provides clarity (what exactly are the issues?) and certainty (how do we know that is true?) otherwise missing.
- You should get a balanced outlook exposing both good and bad aspects of your organisation. Don’t shoot the messenger just because you don’t like the message.
- You should get a range of costed options – it’s your organisation and thus your choice. They can help you make decisions but not make the decisions for you.
- Consultants have to make a living as well so if you want to negotiate, then get into their shoes. They will be trying to get into yours!
T>alking – consultants who talk more than you, may be coming with pre-convictions about the issues you face, or lack skill to uncover the “real” cause of the symptoms. Initial conversations about your business, need consultants who are skilled in questioning and listening.
Reality – skilled consultants interrogate reality, to make sure that it is! In most organisations people don’t say what they mean or what needs saying, because they are too polite or believe nothing will change. Great ideas lurk in dark pools and take time to flush out to the surface.
Understanding – only when this is done should the consultant have an understanding as good, if not better than yours, of three things. What the issues are, which are priorities and how best to tackle them.
Strategy – a costed range of options falling from the above, and a recommendation for, at the very least, next steps. This should include success criteria and measures, review timing and alternatives.
Take Action – implement actions within the strategy. “How” implementation is done is as or more important than “what” is implemented. Review success regularly and be prepared to tweak to get the desired results.
If you can’t trust the consultant, don’t – especially if they can’t tell the difference between a dog and sheep!