Many companies don’t feel the need to work with business consultants. Why would they? Managers already know how to do business; in today’s harsh world, they could not keep their jobs for very long otherwise.
Sometimes there’s an unexpected difficulty, a spike in activities or a project a little too ambitious or complex, and the door briefly opens to experts from the outside, but as soon as things get back to normal extra hands are no longer needed.
Consultants are not exactly easy to deal with. They are expensive. Their performance is uncertain, since they are usually employed for tricky issues. A reliable consultant can disappoint in a challenging project, and a less gifted one look good if the work was easier than expected, or with some luck. Comparing the situation to what might have been without the consultant often doesn’t make sense.
It can be difficult to get them on board. When issues are thorny or in emergencies, you don’t want to spend valuable time explaining the situation to outsiders, especially if you are not sure they are the right people for the job.
Therefore, regular business is often reduced to specific projects where consultants have a well-established added value, for instance organizing a process they know so well that the task is limited to pure implementation.
Consultants could probably be given more jobs, but this is not necessarily where the best potential lies, if we reason out of two premises:
As a result, companies actually never have enough expertise. It is not just about solving today’s issues; companies need knowledge, reflection, debates, studies, explorations, experiments, options, angles… Most of the time they are not doing enough about this, and not out of recklessness: understandably, great people in a company spend more time running around to deal with customers and major projects than in a meeting room pondering the future or deciphering the world.
There is no shortage of seasoned professionals on the market, with an incredible diversity of expertise, who in the past would have been locked in employment. They have more freedom of thought because they work with various situations and connect the dots, as opposed to executives isolated in their daily work tunnels. Understanding what they are doing and interacting with them is effortless because they are heavily involved in social networks, webinars and other forms of online presence. They are flexible and available.
In this light, a new form of relationship and collaboration could emerge. Consultants should be an investment: partners rather than bounty-hunters. There are not needed every day for sure, but they should be around, not kept at bay, and help companies to grow strong, not just put fires out.
Athletes train much more than they perform. Companies don’t (and yes, can’t). Even large corporations, that work with consultants all year round, do it only because they constantly have issues to deal with due to their size.
Consultants should attend board meetings, or C-level meetings, on a regular basis. They should update studies frequently, not just write them every odd year. They should be involved in projects, coaching talents. They should talk about changes, research and discuss them, test them, implement them, monitor them. They should be asked open questions. Companies should have a real budget for them and reasons to spend it, not an emergency reserve that they hope to save.
The goal of this relationship should be to bring the companies to the next level, to create superpowers, to unleash energy, to turn “staff members” into champions, to upend the business world. It might seem fancy and an unlikely way to justify a budget line, but the success of a business today can have more to do with its ability to deal with the unknown and to challenge itself than a determination to eliminate issues.