Consulting is far more than simply giving unsubstantiated advice. To provide effective consulting, it is necessary to have access to a range of tools and techniques which elevate recommendations above poor data or impractical hunches. With knowledge of a variety of business frameworks and models, business intelligence tools, and software, experts can consult with confidence.
It’s essential to begin any consulting scenario with benchmarking analysis. With benchmarking, the consultant will compare current data to historical data sets from industry competitors to uncover their client’s market position.
With accurate benchmarking, a consultant can understand areas where the client has a competitive advantage over their rivals and areas within the organisation’s strategy or processes that need improvement. With this information to hand, it will be possible to make improvements to the organisation’s competitive value.
Business benchmarking is strengthened with large data sets via reports and research. The more information included in reports, the more accurate the recommendations a consultant can make.
It’s all well and good measuring business performance, but choosing the wrong areas to measure or placing too much emphasis on one particular area of business performance is bound to lead to consulting failure.
With the following essential frameworks and models, consultants can get a comprehensive picture of how a business is performing, and which areas are the ones where improvement activities should be focused.
The balanced scorecard is an attempt to give decision makers a fast and comprehensive view of business performance, without having to choose between focusing on financial and operational details and processes.
The scorecard features financial measures which outline the results of activities implemented in the past. Next, operational measures are factored in, from customer satisfaction levels to improvement activities; these are the future drivers of financial performance.
A manager that was part of the Harvard Business Review research project said of the balanced scorecard, it is the ‘kill another tree programme’, as it allows managers to see the wood from the trees, and therefore laser in on the most business-critical factors.
Rockwell, a global engineering organisation, are specialists in underwater engineering and construction. They are an example of a company in the ENRI sector that has used the balanced scorecard to deliver industry-leading safety and quality standards.
Norman Chambers, CEO of Rockwell, devised a five-element strategy to reach his vision.
1. Services that surpass customers’ needs and expectations
2. High customer satisfaction
3. Continuous health and safety improvements
4. Equipment reliability
To achieve its strategic objectives, Rockwell implemented its strategy into the balanced scorecard’s four performance parameters:
1. Financial performance
2. Customer perspective
3. Innovation and learning perspectives
4. Internal business perspectives
Consultants must understand a client’s competencies and capabilities when embarking on a project. However, these two terms don’t refer to the same thing, there are subtle differences between them.
Competencies are distinct behaviours that don’t relate directly to the jobs that employees perform. These could be anything from their decision making ability to communications skills.
Capabilities refer to skills employees have, but might not have yet realised. These could be achieving a productivity target, or becoming a manager or leader. When considering the make-up of a company’s employees, a consultant needs to look at which employees have the capabilities to perform certain roles, and what structures need to be put in place to help their potential be achieved in full.
In-depth knowledge of business frameworks is key. However, your intrinsic skills or internal attributes as a consultant are more important. Frameworks are there to help you make decisions and pose suitable paths forward, not to be leaned on as crutches when you’re expected to drive bottom line results.
We would like to use an analogy here to explain a key point. You can improve your tools — your software, without exerting too much pressure on your hardware — or yourself.
When you place too much pressure on yourself, the result is burnout. To avoid this, a consultant can turn to business intelligence tools like data visualisation, big data integrations, plus project management and productivity tools to assist in decision making and strategy formulation.
Business intelligence tools enable consultants to quickly understand large quantitative data sets which would otherwise present you with a headache, when poring over endless and difficult to interpret spreadsheets.
These tools can help you collect data in one place, providing the ability to call up information through requests. In this way, business intelligence tools provide data for analysis. With these tools, a consultant can improve strategic decision making, in the process identifying areas that need addressing and forecasting future outcomes.
Business intelligence tools allow consultants to fuse their experience and strategic insights with real data to back up their recommendations. Drawing on external sources to inform your recommendations lends them an air of realism, and demonstrates that your tech savviness to build trust with potential clients.
As a consultant pitching for project work with a new client, your case will be significantly enhanced by providing personal case studies that demonstrate the significance your recommendations have had on the success of previous clients.
It is also beneficial to show your ability to interpret facts and data, to draw implications and analyse market drivers. It’s all about contextualising how your knowledge and experience can help the client in their challenge.
What have been the most successful technical approaches you have taken in the past?
It’s good to think about the big picture decisions you’ve made and why you made them. Take computer programming as an example. When programming a computer, the developer gives a sequence of commands that, when followed to the letter, automate the performance of a task. Whether this is a micro or macro end result, each command needs to be in a logical and precise order.
The same is true for giving recommendations as a consultant. You need to outline how your problem-solving approach is the best approach and identify where your strategic input has made the key difference to an organisation’s performance.
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