What is "Consulting" anyway?
There are many types of consultants specialising in various fields - whether that be IT, strategy, HR or Operations to name a few.
Your actual requirements will depend on many factors, including: the size of your business, the type of project / change you are undertaking, the current level of skill & experience within the business and your vision for the future. To help you decide, it is helpful to understand what is on offer. On one end of the spectrum, you you may need someone to simply provide a report based on experience or research. Alternatively, at the other end, you may require someone to work in all areas of your business diagnosing the culture (the "way things are done") and mapping the processes to help build capacity and a more mature business for the future.
The diagram below (Copyright Harvard Business Magazine, Sept. 1982) gives a simple summary of the levels of consulting move from the most simple and external, through to the most complex and involved.
In summary, the levels build in this order:
Provide Requested Information - maybe you want a report on pay rates in the local area or a summary of the top five CRM systems to explore. This support will give you vital information to allow you to make more informed decisions.
Provide Solutions - If you know you have a defined problem (high defects, poor line performance, lack of process documents etc.) this next level would involve a consultant supporting you in finding the solutions to these problems. This leaves you with clear actions to take.
Conduct Diagnosis - If you know there are opportunities within your business but are not sure how to define or or measure these, a consultant can help diagnose problems through observation and measurement to frame the problems better for you. This will then allow you to better organise your business to take action.
Recommend Actions - Moving on from simply providing diagnoses, now the consultant is asked to become part of the problem resolution process. At this stage, you will now have developed solid information, supplemented by clear recommendations and actions.
Assist Implementation - As you start to implement changes in your business, at this stage the consultant can roll their sleeves up and assist you in making the changes. You must remember, the completion of actions MUST remain within your business. A consultant can support, but can never own the actions. Failure to remember this will result in lack of accountability & sustainability.
Build Consensus - Stages 6 onwards are less traditional forms of consulting. Building support for the change programme, developing a communications strategy and engaging with stakeholders are all examples of activities undertaken in this stage. Again, the consultant is there to coach & support, not own these processes.
Facilitate learning - as the business transitions to become a learning organisation, there needs to be strategies & plans in place to ensure new knowledge is embedded, shared and the way change is absorbed into the business. Unfortunately, these mechanisms are not commonplace in many businesses, so the support from a consultant can be essential to develop lasting change.
Improve Organisational Effectiveness - the top tier of support is really one of being change champion. This support really needs to be the consultant coach to the key senior leaders in the business. You must be clear on the role of the consultant to make sure a culture of learning, accountability and openness is developed, but it can never rely on the presence of the consultant.
Good luck on your journey and I hope this summary will help you define your needs better.
Copyright Harvard Business Magazine, Sept. 1982