The position of consultant is probably one of the most misunderstood in the world of business. While everyone has heard of consultants, a great many people are not entirely aware of their true value to companies and organizations. Yet, with consultancy being a multi-billion-dollar global business, there is no question that leaders across the world value their expertise and are only too happy to seek them out in order to improve their businesses and organizations. So, what do consultants do, and why are they so valuable to businesses?
This article will look at the key responsibilities of a consultant, what areas of business they tend to operate in, and the advantages they can offer to companies and other organizations. In addition, it will also examine the kind of career path that can lead to consulting, the importance of lifelong learning in this profession, and some examples of its successful application.
A fresh pair of expert eyes
In simple terms, a consultant is a person who provides expert advice to a company, organization, or possibly an individual. Consultants can work independently or as part of a team, but in each case, they are external to the organization they are advising – they are not permanent employees. In most cases, consultants are hired because they possess a high level of expertise in a particular area that the organization would not otherwise have at its disposal. In some cases, they may be hired simply to provide a fresh pair of eyes to tackle a long-term issue.
Consultants may be required in almost any industry, and their given expertise could be in virtually any field. At the same time, there are some common areas in business where they are more likely to be required, including IT, organization, strategy, human resources, finance, and operations. In addition, AI is reported to be a new booming field for consultants. The amount of time a consultant will spend at a given company can vary tremendously. Sometimes, they might be invited to provide key advice or information for just a few days, while there are also plenty of examples of project collaborations that can last for months, years, or even decades.
Solving problems and reaching targets
Generally speaking, consultants are usually called in to solve a particular problem or issue. For example, if a company is having trouble with bugs and slow processing in its computer system, it might call in an outside consultant to identify the problem and recommend solutions. With an HR consultant, the company might need advice on how to improve staff retention and increase employee satisfaction.
In most cases, the consultants will be tasked with listening to the concerns of the organization that has brought them in, then collecting data and other information to understand the problem in greater detail. Once this period of research is complete, they typically present their findings to the company’s leadership and make recommendations on what changes to make. In some instances, they may also provide staff members with training to help them meet the objectives. Usually, this initial period is followed by monitoring and evaluation to examine progress before making further changes and calibrations, if necessary, to ensure long-term success.
A wide range of skills required
It should also be acknowledged, however, that the actions of consultants depend greatly on the targets and objectives of the organization that has invited them. Although all consultants will have ideas about the best way to proceed and what areas to focus on, to a certain extent, they must also remain within the remit set to them. Though this more limited scope is in some ways a blessing – as much of the responsibility lies with the client – it is also a potential source of frustration, particularly if the client is unable or unwilling to take the steps the consultant believes are necessary to make genuine progress.
Indeed, the external nature of this kind of work means that consultants must be highly skilled in not only listening to the needs of the client, but also communicating their own ideas and advocating for the changes they believe are required. In addition, they must also be diplomatic when dealing with members of staff in the organization. In short, being a good consultant requires a great deal of expertise in the specialist field and the ability to work seamlessly and effectively in any given environment. Naturally, anyone interested in building a career in consultancy must also have a high level of theoretical knowledge and the requisite credentials to demonstrate their expertise.
Preparation essential to success
This is especially true in management consulting, where consultants typically work to help businesses and other organizations become more effective in their general operations. Although management consultancy can encompass some of the areas mentioned above, it primarily tends to focus on the importance of organizational structure, effective decision-making, and building a well-functioning and effective team.
By examining the key processes and systems at the heart of business operations, management consulting can play a highly influential role in eradicating both minor and major issues and taking the company in question to a higher level. Naturally, performing such a demanding role as an external advisor is a challenging profession. Fortunately, a wide range of courses is available to help provide consultants with the background theoretical knowledge, skill set, and practical experience to succeed in their work.
Today, many of these courses are also available in a more flexible format to make them accessible for people already in part-time or full-time employment. An MBA in Organizational Consulting from Spring Arbor University, for example, can be completed entirely online, which means that there is no need to relocate to a campus university, and classes can be scheduled around necessary work appointments.
In this kind of course, students have the opportunity to develop true business expertise in a consulting environment, with a particular focus on building a strong foundation in assessing, researching, and identifying solutions to personnel and organizational issues and developing the skills needed to understand individual and group behavior within organizations. In addition, graduates will also emerge with key theoretical and practical methodologies behind workplace learning and development and a sophisticated understanding of strategic leadership.
Experience and lifelong learning are key parts of the journey
Naturally, any expert consultants will also benefit from workplace experience. Although it is not necessary to have worked in an electronics factory to provide an electronics production company with advice on their finances, it is essential to have both a working knowledge of the given industry and, more importantly, to have a full understanding of the area of expertise for which you are providing consultancy services, and also how to operate effectively in a consultancy role.
Given the often varied nature of the profession and the fact that they are purposely brought in to provide expert advice in a specific area, lifelong learning also plays a crucial role in the career of a consultant. To stay up to date, the best consultants not only carry out a great deal of reading and research in their chosen field but are also in constant dialogue with their peers and endeavor to seek out training and any other opportunities to learn.
The right approach to get results
Overall, the roles and responsibilities of consultants are extremely wide and multi-faceted, but generally, they are required to provide external support and expert advice for organizations in a particular field. Typically, they are asked to solve a specific problem or set of problems or help an organization move toward a given goal. They need to be capable of evaluating, examining, and reacting to events as they occur. And because of the nature of business and the fact that – as external observers – so much is outside their control, consultants must also be highly flexible and ready to adapt to change – an approach built on an agile mindset, not fixed, stationary ideas.
It is clear that any successful consultant must be skilled in the art of communication, have an extremely perceptive and analytical mindset, and be capable of strategic thought that can help the client make genuine steps forward and activate meaningful change. There can be no question that becoming a consultant is a demanding choice and represents a huge challenge, given the aspects of the job outline above. At the same time, for those people who can combine all of these qualities, an excellent career awaits.