Thursday 3 March 2011

Why companies should consider bringing in outside help to solve internal problems

Why should a company bring in outside help?

In his best selling satirical book, “The Dilbert Principle”, Scott Adams provides a view of consultants as seen from the inside of an office cubicle:

  • Consultants have credibility because they are not dumb enough to be regular employees of your company.

  • Consultants eventually leave, which makes them scapegoats for major management blunders.

  • Consultants can schedule time on the boss's calendar because they don't have your reputation as a whiney little troublemaker who constantly brings up unsolvable issues.

  • Consultants will return your boss's calls because it's all billable time.

  • Consultants work preposterously long hours, thus making the regular employees feel like worthless toads for working only 60 hours a week.

  • And finally, Consultants will rarely deal with the root cause of your company's problems, since it's probably the person that hired them.

The book is a cynical and hilarious view of business theory. But there are plenty of good reasons to bring in outside help for your business that provide tangible benefits to the company, your team and your customers.

Specialist skills: I feel quite smug that I understand the theory of the combustion engine, well, sort of… and I’ve been driving cars since I was a teenager, but I know that if I took a spanner to my engine, only doom and disaster would follow. Realistically, I wouldn’t service my own car and I respect the superior knowledge, skills and speed of a trained mechanic. Yet why do so many company leaders think that they are experts in all aspects of business?

The classic errors I see on a regular basis are SME owner managers who have done well for many years, and then some unexpected misfortune clobbers their turnover. As cashflow disintegrates the manager, believing, ‘I’ve been driving this thing for over 20 years, surely I can fix it?’ descends into a maelstrom of spiralling debt, stress and confusion. If, at an early stage in this sorry tale, a professional financial consultant or business advisor had been brought in, they could have swiftly guided the poor fellow through the quicksand to a safe place.

And the examples could go on and on… Bringing in a consultant gives you access to a specific skill set, that can’t be found within your business to the same degree. Even though daily rates are higher than your regular employees (and don’t we all gasp when we see the hourly rate of garage mechanics?) but looking at what is at stake, and what could be saved, they can bring immense value to your company.

External viewpoint: And precisely because the consultant is not part of your business, he or she brings an objectivity and detachment to the problems you face. Being independent of internal politics and having no historical frame of reference can actually be a positive and liberating place to be. Where difficult situations have been tiptoed around due to cliques, personality clashes or ancient history, a consultant can provide unbiased opinions and implement the changes needed without anyone feeling there were any personal motivations.

A fresh look from an outsider can be very enlightening for a business. A successful engineering firm I met recently, with an excellent technical ability in their field, found themselves at a loss to understand why they could not break in to supply contracts for larger national companies. They thought their prices were too high, their location too distant, their salesperson was ineffective, but couldn’t pin down the problem. But the answer was very simple. They had overlooked the importance of their company image, the need for well written sales literature and a professional website, and, despite all their potential, they gave the impression of being a back-street fabricating workshop. They hadn’t stood outside their business, and looked at it from a customer’s point of view.

Temporary services for a limited time: A consultant comes to the business with the benefit of having worked in many other organisations, and having years of experience in the business world.  Exploiting their knowledge for a short time can have a lasting positive impact on your company. This is what you’re paying for.

Even developing a long running programme of business improvement may only need the input of a consultant for a limited number of hours or days per month. Their physical presence in your business is unlikely to be needed for 40 hours a week. What you get is their knowledge, skills, creativity and experience. They will motivate you and your team to achieve your goals through guidance and advice, and let you implement the ideas yourselves.

Engaging a consultant is nearly always less expensive in the long run than hiring managers or staff with similar skills and experience. And you don’t have to keep paying for them, or wonder what to do with them, when the project is over.

What is the role of a consultant in your business?

Qualified resource: when you bring in a qualified specialist, in addition to legal compliancy requirements (HR law or Health and Safety, for example) benefits can be felt in all parts of your business. Outside specialist knowledge inevitably produces a rise in standards internally, and adds credibility and cachet for your company in its external dealings.

Professional adviser and counsellor: sometimes it’s just good to talk to someone who is not part of your business or close to you personally. A consultant understands your position, and can give you confidential advice, support and make you feel you are not on your own. I am part of a group of business consultants called Northern Business Advisers (NBA) - see - who have, as their strapline, ‘We’ve walked in your shoes.’ I think that sums it up? Having a reassuring presence in your business, who has been through many similar situations before can give you confidence and optimism when times are tough.

Catalyst for change: here is an old definition of madness: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. I can’t think of any improvements that are brought about by doing nothing? Change is essential to growth and development, but it can be painful. Bringing in a consultant can speed up this process as they do not have other obligations in the company, or a day job to attend to. You can set them clear deliverables and timelines, and allow them to apply their skills and experience to benefit your business.

Being from ‘outside’ the business means they can focus on the objectives, not the day to day tasks. Their position of authority can be used to communicate changes to the affected employees, customers or suppliers, and handle objections and difficult situations in a professional way, with more detachment. This reduces the emotional struggle many small business owners go through when handling things on their own, but which gets the job done quickly, effectively and profitably.

If you think you could benefit from the advice of an external consultant, Blue Box Management Consultants, contact us. We will be delighted to give you a free appointment to talk through any issues that face your business.

Tel 084 3289 3288
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