'Clients Realize That to Succeed at Their Own Projects, They Need to Think like Consultants' – according to Consultant News. Not Sure It Is a Good Idea.

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by: Idris Mootee

“Clients Realize That to Succeed at Their Own Projects, They Need to Think Like Consultants” is the headline of article from the Consultant News published by Kennedy Consulting Research. Clients shouldn’t think like consultants, read on to understand why.

Here’s an excerpt from Consultants News:

"The best clients understand this, so many try to absorb as much consulting knowledge as possible during engagements. This enables them to become more innovative and responsive to ever-changing market opportunities and challenges in the future. In fact, client demand for consulting-like knowledge and insight is growing, which prompted Jump Associates – a 50-person product strategy and design firm in San Mateo, Calif. – to launch a new consulting service based on helping organizations to think more like consultants."

What is wrong here?  Here’s an excerpt from a piece by the late Peter Drucker titled “Why management consultants?” that will give you some perspectives.

“But there is a subtler and perhaps even more important reason for the emergence and the importance of the consultant in the practice, the discipline, and the profession of management. “It is a fool who has himself for a client,” says an old legal proverb. And physicians learned long ago not to treat their own families, let alone themselves."

"The professional needs commitment to the client’s cause or to the patient’s recovery. But he must stay free of involvement. He must not himself be a part of the problem. And the practitioner executive is always a part of the problem, is, indeed, as Chester Barnard first pointed out, always the main problem. The practitioner-executive cannot treat his organization without treating himself. That his own interests are at stake is probably quite irrelevant; the present- day belief that a responsible professional cannot rise above his own self-interest is little but vulgar superstition. But the executive in an organization is also always a member of the organization, shares its traditions, its beliefs, its joys and its sorrows, its greatness and its pettinesses. He is like the physician who treats his own family – he diagnoses with the heart and always takes his own pulse rather than that of the patient."

"And thus, the management consultant brings to the practice of management what being professional requires: detachment. He makes it possible to have a professional diagnostician in management, a professional therapist and a true scholar."

Consultants and clients play a very different role and have very different skills. Consultant’s development goal is to expose himself broadly, analyzing massive qualitative and quantitative data and looking at the business from both industry structure and outside the industry perspectives. An industry executive’s career is to execute and implement in the most effective manner. It is simply not a good idea now possible for them to put too much focus and energy on different industries.

Often an outside opinion, expressed by a consultant is important to shake things up. The most senior level of strategy consultant can help companies react to competitive threats but remain detached. Companies often made the mistake of Instead of undertaking extensive, sophisticated analyses when faced with a competitive threats, they assess just a few responses, and often choose the most obvious one. Missing out many strategic choices.

Consultant is an ugly word sometimes and we know why. I’ve seen many snake oil salesmen selling best practices with the goal to make every company the same. That’s also called “commodization!” Many are simply lack the depth of experiences, in general many young MBAs who have less than 10 years are basically analysts or specialist consultant, definitely not a strategy consultant. How can you advise a client on strategic issues when your exposures on many of these big strategic issues are from text book? 

If you have worked with some of the the top tier black belt consultants, you know how much value they can bring and a difference they make to the success of a project. I am not sure about the tier 3 or tier 4 consultants. You might as well just save the money. The reasons for using tier 1 and 2 professional consultants are:

Talent and brains. They usually hired the best and the brightest and many of these people prefer to jump from solving one problem to the other rather than staying within an industry. They live in airports and hotels. So a different lifestyle.

Stamp of approval. If you want to sell a big project or an M&A to your bosses – having the stamp of approval of a top consulting firm really helps.

Outsider advantage. One of the biggest strengths of consulting firms is that they are external to the organization. You need an outsider to avoid internal politics. The consultants have no self interest because they don’t stay on after the project.

Cross industry-knowledge. This is key as the knowledge repository is important and it comes with the package.

Clients don’t need to think like consultants. But consultants need to think like client. Consultant’s number one skill is "listening". Tom Peters is one of the smartest management consultants and thinkers of the last decades, but you really don’t want your people to be like him. He is not an organizational man. Both consultants and managers have different roles to play, there are things they can learn from each other, no question, but you don’t want them to think like each other.

And remember, the most important characteristic that a management consultant brings to the practice of management what being professional requires is detachment, you don’t want your managers to start feeling detached, do you?

Original Post: http://mootee.typepad.com/innovation_playground/2009/03/clients-realize-that-to-succeed-at-their-own-projects-they-need-to-think-like-consultants-according-.html