Marketing Strategy For Hr Consulting – To reduce this waste, clients need to better understand what consulting tasks can accomplish. They need to demand more from such advisors, who, in turn, must learn to meet heightened expectations.
This article is the result of current research on effective consulting, including interviews with partners and executives from five well-known firms. It also stems from my experience supervising entry-level consultants and the many conversations and associations I’ve had with consultants and clients in the US and abroad. These experiences lead me to propose a way to clarify the purposes of management consulting. When there is clarity about purpose, both parties are more likely to deal satisfactorily with the engagement process.
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Management consulting includes a wide range of activities, and many companies and their members often define these practices quite differently. One way to categorize activities is in terms of the practitioner’s area of expertise (such as competitive analysis, corporate strategy, operations management, or human resources). But in practice, there are as many differences within these categories as there are between them.
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Another approach is to view the process as a sequence of phases—entry, hiring, diagnosis, data collection, feedback, implementation, and so on. However, these phases are often less discreet than most consultants admit.
Perhaps a more useful way to analyze the process is to consider its purposes; clarity about objectives certainly influences the success of an engagement. Here are the eight fundamental objectives of consulting, organized hierarchically:
Fewer purposes are better understood and practiced and are also more requested by customers. Many consultants, however, aspire to a higher stage on the pyramid than most of their appointments achieve.
Purposes 1-5 are generally considered legitimate roles, although there is some controversy surrounding Purpose 5. Management consultants are less likely to address Purposes 6-8 explicitly, and their clients are not as likely to ask for them. . But leading companies and their customers are starting to address smaller numbers of purposes in ways that also involve the other objectives. Goals 6-8 are considered to be by-products of previous goals, not additional goals that become relevant only when the other goals have been achieved. They are essential for effective consulting, even if they are not recognized as explicit objectives at the beginning of the engagement.
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Climbing up the pyramid towards more ambitious purposes requires ever-increasing sophistication and skill in consulting processes and in managing the consultant-client relationship. Sometimes a professional tries to change the purpose of an appointment, even if the change is not necessary; the company may have lost the line between what is best for the client and what is best for the consultant’s business. But reputable consultants generally don’t try to lengthen commitments or broaden their scope. Wherever the relationship begins on the pyramid, the stranger’s first job is to fulfill the purpose the customer asks for. As needed, both parties can agree to shift to other goals.
Perhaps the most common reason to seek help is to obtain information. Its compilation may involve attitude surveys, cost studies, feasibility studies, market research or analyzes of the competitive structure of an industry or business. The company may want the special expertise of a consultant or the most accurate and up-to-date information the company can provide. Or the company may not be able to spare the time and resources to develop the data internally.
Information is often all a customer wants. But the information a client needs sometimes differs from what the consultant must provide. A CEO commissioned a study to see whether each vice president generated enough work to have his own secretary. The people he contacted rejected the project because, they said, he already knew the answer and an expensive study wouldn’t convince the vice presidents anyway.
Later, the partner in the consulting firm said, “I always ask, what are you going to do with the information once you get it? Many customers never thought about it.” Often the customer just needs to make better use of the data already available. In any case, no outsider can provide useful discoveries unless he understands why the information is sought and how it will be used. Consultants must also determine what relevant information is already available.
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Seemingly impertinent questions from either side shouldn’t be offended – they can be highly productive. In addition, professionals have a responsibility to explore their clients’ underlying needs. They must respond to requests for data in a way that allows them to decipher and address other needs as an accepted part of the work agenda.
Managers often give consultants difficult problems to solve. For example, a customer might want to know whether to manufacture or buy a component, acquire or divest a line of business, or change a marketing strategy. Or management may ask how to restructure the organization so that it can more readily adapt to change; what financial policies to adopt; or what is the most practical solution to a problem of compensation, morale, efficiency, internal communication, control, management succession, or whatever.
Seeking solutions to problems of this sort is certainly a legitimate function. But the consultant also has a professional responsibility to ask whether the problem at hand is the one that most needs to be addressed. Often, the customer needs more help defining the real problem; indeed, some authorities argue that executives who can accurately determine the roots of their problems don’t need management consultants. Thus, the consultant’s first task is to explore the context of the problem. To do this, he or she might ask:
A management consultant should not reject or accept the client’s initial description too easily. Suppose the problem is presented as low morale and low performance in the hourly workforce. The consultant who believes in this definition can spend a lot of time studying the symptoms without ever discovering the causes. On the other hand, a consultant who rejects this way of describing the problem too quickly will end a potentially useful consulting process before it begins.
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When possible, the most sensible course is to structure a proposal that focuses on the customer’s stated concern at one level while exploring related factors – sometimes sensitive issues that the customer is well aware of but has difficulty discussing with an outsider. As the two parts work together, the problem can be redefined. The question can change from, say, “Why do we have poor attitudes and performance every hour?” to “Why do we have a poor process scheduling system and low levels of trust within the management team?”
Thus, a useful consulting process involves working with the problem as defined by the client in such a way that more useful definitions naturally emerge as the work progresses. Since most clients—like people in general—are ambivalent about needing help with their most important problems, the consultant must deftly respond to the client’s implicit needs. Client managers must understand a consultant’s need to explore a problem before starting to solve it, and must realize that the definition of the most important problem can change as the study progresses. Even the most impatient customer will likely agree that neither a solution to the wrong problem nor a solution that doesn’t get implemented is helpful.
Much of the value of management consultants lies in their expertise as diagnosticians. However, the process by which an accurate diagnosis is formed sometimes undermines the consultant-client relationship, as managers are often afraid of discovering difficult situations for which they might be to blame. A competent diagnosis requires more than an examination of the external environment, the technology and economics of the business, and the behavior of non-managerial members of the organization. The consultant must also ask why executives made certain choices that now appear to be mistakes or ignored certain factors that now appear important.
While the need for independent diagnostics is often cited as a reason for using outsiders, bringing members of the client’s organization into the diagnostic process makes sense. A consultant explains:
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We usually insist that the client’s team members be assigned to the project. They, not us, must do the detailed work. We will help, we will push – but they will do it. In the meantime, we talk to the CEO every day for an hour or two about the issues that are coming up, and we meet with the President once a week. In this way, we diagnose strategic problems in connection with organizational issues. We get a sense of key people’s skills – what they can do and how they work. When we emerge with strategic and organizational recommendations, they are generally well accepted because they have been thoroughly tested.
Clearly, when clients participate in the diagnostic process, they are more likely to recognize their role in the problems and accept a redefinition of the consultant’s task. Leading firms therefore establish mechanisms such as joint task forces between consultants and clients to work on data analysis and other parts of the diagnostic process. As the process continues, managers naturally begin to implement corrective actions without having to wait for formal recommendations.
The engagement typically ends with a written report or oral presentation that summarizes what the consultant has learned and recommends in some detail what the client should do. Companies dedicate a lot
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