Almost all organisations use third party advisers on a regular basis, even if it is only to draw up legal documents or prepare tax returns. However, sometimes businesses face a particular challenge or problem that requires expert outside help to effect real change. Bringing in an independent eye can play an important role in moving a company to the next level and it’s an opportunity to draw on expertise that wouldn’t otherwise be available.
The trigger points
The reasons for drawing on the help of third party advisers are rich and varied but there are some common scenarios. For instance, a business may be generating significant revenues but managing cash poorly. Equally, a company may be gearing up to make an acquisition or disposal while lacking the in-house expertise.
Sometimes the requirement is for advice and input that goes beyond a specific problem or issue and contributes to a much broader recalibration of the organisation. For example, one of my recent clients was a law firm in the SME sector. They were seeking to grow their business in an increasingly competitive legal marketplace. In that instance our role was to work with partners to help them develop the business skills to underpin their legal expertise. In cases such as this, consultants can be the catalyst for strategic transformation and there is a strong mentoring element to the engagement.
In part, the role of the consultant is to bring to bear expertise that isn’t available in-house. In the case of smaller companies you can hire people on an interim, part-time or project basis that can supply the skills that would be unaffordable full time. In larger businesses, those skills may be available but the existing teams too busy with day-to-day operations to deal with, say, a major change management project.
An independent eye
The real value of the consultant lies not simply in their technical skills: an experienced consultant, or part-time or interim director can also bring an independent vision. He or she can stand outside the relationships, politics and history of the organisation, assess the problems and map out what needs to be done.
Equally important, consultants bring a wealth of experience from other companies and other industries. They’ve played a part in the transformation of a wide number of businesses and can apply the lessons learned to each new client.
Of course, it is vitally important for businesses to measure the outcome of their engagement with a third-party consultant. In some cases, that’s relatively easy. For example, if the aim was to speed up invoice payments so that cash flow problems could be alleviated, the results are quickly measurable and quantifiable.
In the case of bigger strategic processes, the measurement is longer term and what you’re really looking for is a correlation between the work of the consultants or advisers and improved performance across the key indicators.
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