Choosing the Right Dog

Management Consulting has a bit of an image problem. At worst, we are blood-sucking leeches who steal your watch and tell you the time. At best, we leave behind masterful PowerPoint presentations but rarely deliver real results.

Let me share a dirty little secret with you. Consultants who have come to grips with their rightful place in the business world actually do good consulting. They are proud to be faithful consulting hounds serving the interests of their noble client masters.

However, the man-dog bond is a rich and complex relationship. There are a host of hounds purpose-bred for the wide array of consulting tasks required by mankind. As a client, there are several key things to look out for in choosing a consulting partner:

  • Be clear on your financial commitment – will you buy a pack of hungry hounds full-time, or shelter a canine friend just a few days a week?
  • How much room to move will you offer? Some hounds will want to start with a clean slate and constantly push your strategic and operational boundaries to the limit; others will be happy to sit still and offer you a greater degree of obedience.
  • Are you willing to walk junior consultants around the park every day, steadily building their fitness for your purpose? Or do you want expert dogs on the job that know where all the bones are buried from the start?

Clients take note:

Watch your step carefully as you embark upon your next consulting partnership. Choose the right breed of consultants for the task at hand, keep a firm grip on the leash and remember to acknowledge their contributions now and then. Well managed, your trusty consulting hounds will deliver the results you need, without causing unwanted holes in your budget, or unduly messing up the corporate structure.

Choosing the Right Owner

Of course, any self-respecting consultant (of which there are in fact a few) must also apply his keen nose to sniffing out the right owner to serve. Watch for these telltale signs:

  • Can you love the client? On a great consulting journey, you may be working together for years, so it’s important you can get along. You must find at least one thing about your client you can love and love them like hell for it!
  • Choose a client that has chosen you. Avoid working with a client on a fixed price basis that commits you to pre-determined deliverables from the outset. You are much better off with a client willing to buy your capability and experience and chart a course to the desired outcome together.

Consultants beware:

Having mastered the finer points of man-dog chemistry, observe these golden rules of consulting, or you may find yourself back in obedience school with your client, fighting like cat and dog:

  • No bad clients, only bad consulting – take full responsibility for your work and it’s impact, no matter what happens. In situations where the project goes off track, stop work until the conditions for success of the engagement can be restored.
  • Get clear on the prize(s) – make sure the desired result is clear and unambiguous. Bring it to life in words, pictures and numbers. Figure out what the personal prize for your client will be and build this into your master plan too.
  • Build one team – the most powerful results occur when you are willing to stand for each other’s success. Acting as a vendor will only ever produce acceptable deliverables at best, not the desired outcomes.
  • Be a chameleon with integrity – from the start, be more like the client than they would ever expect. Understand their business, use their language, mimic their symbols, match their pace and appetite for action. You will earn the right to model the change needed, and the permission to help make it happen.