The world of management consulting at times appears to be clouded with uncertainty and confusion; it can require the patience of Job and the Wisdom of Solomon, the serenity of Gandhi and the confidence of Churchill, all at the same time. It can also be the most rewarding experience outside of family that a person can have. Seeing the impact a successful project implementation can have on an organization, even beyond the monetary rewards, makes the headaches and frustrations all worth it. The experience of being part of something that not only impacts your own life but the lives of many others allows one to transcend the drudgeries of the everyday work week, and turn it into learning and life experiences that can rarely be felt in the corporate employee world. This makes it sound akin to a spiritual experience, and in some ways it can be, if the situation is right. But, it is more about being able to participate in a partnership, between the consultant and the client that enhances the professional life of both, and may, maybe in rare cases, promote the well being of society.
Management consulting is about the collaboration of two entities, the consultant and the client. I have found, in the last 25 years of IT consulting, that my role is not the ‘all knowing, ever seeing’ oracle, but that of a partner in the development of successful organizations. In many cases, I may know going into an engagement what the solution for a client is. But my job is not to simply offer my perfect wisdom, collect a check, and run. My job is to listen to the client first and foremost; to let them describe their concerns and issues. Many times, the concept or idea, that presents the ultimate solution will be right in front of the client, they just need to stand back and recognize it. The experiences we have gained through various prior engagements can be called on to help the client see that vision. As Gable (1996) suggests, “client learning or improved client understanding is an important object or result of many consultancies” (p. 1177). Our role as expressed by McLarty and Robinson (1998) is to “provide substantial expertise to the client and while so doing to contribute added value” (para. 11).
This role has changed somewhat over the years. Twenty years ago clients relied on us to tell them what their IT needs were, what they should buy, and how to implement it. Now they come to us telling us what their IT needs are. Our job is to filter through their objectives and determine if the direction they feel they want to go will actually get them to their destination. We are, many times, called on to merely act as a ‘sounding board’ for ideas that the client has. Our experience, understanding, and expertise allow us to assist the client in working through the myriad possibilities that they are presented with.
A number of years ago we had only limited experiences in working with management consultants. At that time IBM was trying to develop business partners to sell their AS/400 systems. They had each participating partner go through a series of training exercises put on by a consultant from one of the ‘Big 8’ accounting firms. This was really just marketing training, that none of us enjoyed. However, what we did learn from that experience was the importance of having a vision of what our role as consultants was to our clients. That vision has stuck with us ever since.
Gable, G. G. (1996). “A Multidimensional Model of Client Success When Engaging External Consultants.” Management Science 42(8): 1175-1198.
McLarty, R. and T. Robinson (1998). “The practice of consultancy and a professional development strategy.” Leadership & Organization Development Journal 19(5): 256-63.