It seems the past few months that a lot of people have been asking me what I do for a living. They know I work for a “consulting” company, but they don’t know particularly what that means.
As you might imagine, to “consult” means you like to “con” and “insult” people, and they pay you a lot of money to do so.
I jest. Consultants get a bad name for a few reasons, but for the most part it’s because they are expensive and their solutions don’t work most of the time. However, the REASON they don’t work most of the time is that the client only follows the solution part of the way or only with lip service. Funny how things don’t succeed if you aren’t really committed to them, eh?
The other main reason they get a bad name is that many consultants become an embedded part of the client company, much like a parasite. They check in, but they don’t check out.
And frankly, there are a lot of smart business people out there who ALL feel that they’re experts and don’t need any help. They resent that a consulting company has been brought in. Never mind the fact that if they had been succeeding, we wouldn’t have been called. Duh.
Even if your organization is loaded with brilliant MBA’s with 20 years of experience, you still lack one thing that a consultant does have: objectivity.
I don’t care if marketing hates operations and sales hates marketing and HR hates everyone. I don’t care if Joe in operations is always “sabotaging” your efforts. I don’t care that you’ve reorganized your department 50 times in 5 years, or that you’ve hired the best employees away from the competition. I don’t care that you spent 6 months developing your operating strategy for next year. None of that makes a heap of difference to me. I don’t have a dog in the race.
Objectivity is very difficult to attain when you DO have a dog in the race. It’s hard to acknowledge systemic issues that cross functional areas when all you deal with daily is your own area.
80% of consulting is listening to what everyone has to say (without bias) and meshing all of the problems and ideas into a cohesive action plan. I don’t know the first thing about petroleum exploration, but that didn’t prevent our company from turning a petroleum exploration company around. The knowledge is already usually there in an organization that we work with. It just can’t get out because it’s too personal for the people who work there.
We help people get their heads out of the details and back into the big picture. You can’t start fixing a company by fiddling with procedures. It has to start with the big picture and drill down.
So what do I do personally?
That is a GOOD question. It’s a major hodge-podge of things actually. We are a smaller company (yet interestingly our average client is at least 500M in sales), so we all wear a lot of hats. I have a few things I’m responsible for. I manage our independent contractor consultants, who are assigned to various client projects depending on expertise. I run our R&D department which takes our models and concepts and works to verify their effectiveness. I occasionally get to consult on certain topics, usually riding shotgun with a Ph.D. in something or another.
I also have a number of less glamorous responsibilities. I manage our various websites. I manage vendor relationships. I am our IT guy. I do our payroll and HR stuff.
So if you ask me what I do, it will depend on the day.