Consulting Your Competency – Part

This article talks about consulting competencies and where they fit / will be used in the consulting world. There is so much that a consultant is expected to know and have as attributes, that I fear at times that I may miss something. I anticipate that the competency of consulting professionals cannot be documented in one short blog post. So I’m splitting this into multiple articles. This indeed would be the first part followed by many more

Consulting involves many things. But if we need to prioritize and put a structure to it, I would think consulting could boil today few things that logically center around the client -

a) Understand consulting client’s situation, challenges and issues

b) Identify consulting opportunities

c) Propose a recommendation to solve for a problem

d) Once consulting assignment is sold, deliver the solution to perfection

I would think in a larger context consulting revolves around these 4 broad areas. Needless to say each of these broad areas of consulting work, would constitute smaller areas of activities with measurable results. The conglomerate of these activities becomes a consulting assignment requiring project management efforts.

As I mentioned earlier it is practically impossible to consolidate the expected competencies of a consultant for each of these areas in a single article. So the competency under each of this broad area of work would potentially flow as multiple articles with this being the first of the lot. In this article, we could focus on the competency required from a consultant to be able to understand client situation, issues and challenges.

Given that we have the context now, let us look at some of the sub activities under each of these areas.

Understanding client’s challenges and issues

Now depending on the type of consulting you are in, there could be multiple variants to this phase. For example – If you are:

A financial consultant, you make be making observations on the client’s financial planning and analysis process or their working capital management process or their benchmarking competency amongst others.

A strategy consultant, you may be making observations on the client’s strategic plan, the strategy implementation process, effectivness and evaluation of the strategy, go to market strategy for new markets or products etc.

An operations consultant, you may be making observations on process involved in product development or in facility planning, overall operational effectiveness and methodology, production planning etc

I’m sure you get the idea. In essence, irrespective of your area of expertise, as a consultant, you would be working with the client and making useful observations on their current processes, challenges and issues. It is important to note that organization’s prefer people with industry experience for consulting roles for a simple reason. To be able to identify the client challenges quickly, adapt and come up with a recommendation. No graduation or field of study could make up for this.

Would it suffice if I make an observation as a consultant?

It would suffice if you do not wish to win the consulting deal. But if you really do wish to get engaged in a consulting assignment, mere observations would not help. Observations could potentially be considered as a viable tool to interest the client in your expertise. Identifying with a client involves tremendous effort and work.It involves understanding the environment in which the client operates, the industry challenges, understanding critical issues of the client, understanding how these issues impact the ability of the client to deliver to the customer, understanding the impact of these issues on the overall strategic objective and plan of the organization and so on.

A simple yet very effective tool to better understand your client issues is “Diagnosis”. We would have more often heard this in a hospital or a medical facility but the term is applicable across the industries though the process might differ. Diagnosis in a management consulting set up involves multiphase process of performing GAP analysis (be it functional or system), identifying issues of the client, prioritizing issues of the client based on importance and impact, arriving at a hypothesis (in some cases, the facts stare right at us on our face not warranting the need for hypothesis), performing analysis and arriving at potential conclusions (based on the hypothesis or facts). Though I have summarized all of it in a single sentence, performing diagnosis is not a simple exercise. A consultant is required to wear multiple hats and have multiple traits to be able to go through this diagnosis process and understand client issues.

Does the process stop there? Not at all. Now all we have done is to identify issues. We need to communicate this to the client without which you aren’t going to get paid.

So what attributes should a consultant have to swim through the first phase?

Some of the core attributes required for a core consulting professional includes but is not limited to -

a) Problem Solving abilities – While you may be good at identifying issues, the client needs to get the confidence that you can solve for their business problem. This does not mean you jump the gun and propose a solution ahead of time. It merely involves developing problem solving mind-set to deliver consulting capabilities.

b) Active listening and researching skills – You would note that being a great listener is imperative to being a god consultant. Listening and researching are keys to ensuring you are on top of your game and understanding exactly what the client needs.

c) Ability to pass judgements and take ownership – While you are working on understanding your client’s problems you would be put in a position to make assumptions and form hypothesis. Based on these, you would need to come up with conclusions. If you fear going wrong or lack the ability to make quick judgements, it is possible that the consulting deal would slip through your butter fingers. So develop the ability to make sensible yet informed decisions. It is always wise to ask for more information prior to making a decision.

Developing these few little attributes might take time. So keep in mind this fact and work to develop these attributes to be successful in consulting. Good luck.

As mentioned already, this is first of the many posts to come on the consulting competencies for budding consultants. Do look forward to my next post – Part 2 where we will dwell further into consulting competencies required for communication to clients and help develop strategies for the client. Have a great day ahead!!

Hello – Detailed post with graphics and more information can be found in my blog. If you would like to share your comments or questions, please do share them through the blog.

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