Saturday, November 29, 2014

The wild world of Consultancy.

Ever worked for an organisation, where consultants walk in and out like a revolving door? As one of those persons that had the door greet me and hit me on the way out, you tend to smile at the nature of the work.

As a management consultant, I have been both whipping boy and saviour to both the same and different organizations. But in all times I left a place better than where I met it, or at least I'd like to think so!

Bahamians tend to rag on "Consultants", in particular Bahamian consultants that align themselves with political parties. Bahamians typically see them as cronies, hustlers, gravy train riders and just all out vermin. We often refer to them as the special group of "friends, family and lovers!".

As someone on the hustle myself, you tend to take the ribs, jibes and abuse with a grain of salt. Not because I'm either of the friend, family or lover persuasion. But because you have to take that burden into a game where it has been sullied and made mockery by people with legitimate reasons to do so.

Plus, when you factor in how really insulting and derogatory that particular friend, family and lover statement means, particularly when you see the same old "consultants" awarded numerous government contracts, from any standpoint (because it does not take a Nobel Laureate to appreciate if something is useful, working or not), one really has to be relaxed and calm amidst the regular jostling for prominence in this very broad field of consultancy in The Bahamas.
But, it does raise a particular concern about: What exactly does a consultant do? Better yet, what are consultants supposed to be doing?

In short: We can only do what you want us to do. We can't undo anything unless instructed to do so either. And in your organization, we are only bound by the rules of engagement you set for us.

Especially contractually obligated agreements, most consultants in the field for more than 5 years tend to appreciate sticking with the original agreement unless otherwise formally changed and understood by both parties. This stems the flow of corruption, theft, abuse, malfeasance, lowers the risk of failure and keeps both sides of the agreement satisfied.

Trust me when I say this: We don't want to lose your money if we can help it. Neither do we want a dissatisfied client spreading negativities about our brand that can be avoided. Also, neither should you want to waste time dissatisfying a consultant that, even within a few short days, understands your business model, what you are doing, how you are doing it and even if they don't tell you, know enough of what the acute and problematic details and intricacies of how even you yourself are bringing more harm to your company.

Just a few short months back a colleague of mine sent an email to all of the Bahamian based consultants that he knew, asking them to form a coalition of sorts. Which is a good, first step because we don't have a recognizable body that represents our industry in the Bahamas.

I took the opportunity to research some of the names copied in the email and was quite surprised that many of them were under the age of 50, including myself. Their fields of expertise ranged from small business services, to information technology, to legal services and accountancy and international trade and market research. It was a very diverse group of individuals.

While noticing that their skills and areas of expertise ranged, it led me to the first notion about the aura of a consultant: There is no one, short cut consultant and cookie cutter style of doing things.

Some persons have this perception that a consultant is supposed to be all knowing and all versed in all sectors of the universe. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, consultants in very many respects know very little of the particular business model utilized by a government, civic organization or company. They may have sector specific expertise, but specific organizational knowledge cannot be ascertained until you actually engage a consultant.

So, disabuse yourself of this perilous notion that a consultant is supposed to solve all of your problems with a flick of a switch. It can't happen. It does not happen. It is not supposed to happen, and you would let yourself down at every turn when you hear of one, see one or watch one operate in your respective workplace.

A second most perilous notion, which almost seems paradoxical to the aforementioned, is that some folks confuse the scope of a consultant.

Sometimes, and this is not just from my experience but colleagues express the same thing to me, is that consultants have been hired to conduct work in other areas not of their initial expertise. For example, a financial consultant with his expertise in banking being brought in to help an NGO re-organize their books, is quite different from a market research consultant being brought in to negotiate cross-border agreements with your supplier.

The unwritten rule of thumb is that you never tell a potential client no. You have to work with what the market gives you at times. But this is both dangerous as much as it is an enlightening experience to broaden your scope and learn more about what these folks are doing out here these days.

The burden in this case is equally placed on both parties to explain the parameters of what is expected for any particular project, initiative or engagement. But more-so the consultant has to have the professional integrity to be up front and honest and say: Hey, I see that you need this done, but it really is not my area of expertise; may I refer you to someone else?

The services sector is also changing rapidly, and some say for the worse when we factor in mass layoffs and low job creation.

The days of going into an office and speaking to your accountant or lawyer is long gone. If you don't catch him or her on the way out of a luncheon or seminar or at the airport, you probably would be wasting your time trying to set up a formal meeting at their offices. So, quite frankly, any and everyone with a college degree that has minimal work experience is a consultant or can be one because he has the time, hunger and reason to take on such a profile.

The same goes for consultants in the management and technical related fields, especially those that manage several different projects that deserve immediate attention in several different places.

For KEMP GLOBAL and our associate sub-contractors, I encourage them to go out and meet the people at their place and at their time. I take my show on the road as well, because I have to and it gives my firm a personal charm. I will come to you, on your time and your convenience.

It not only makes it easier for us where we don't have to spend much on accommodations, hence we can save on utility fees, but it also is a chance to go out and see the problem our clients have, right then and right now without second hand information and without having X-Ray vision through the telephone or getting a "feel" of a conversation of our client at our offices. This is important to us, because we really want to and need to see what it is you are doing.

Thirty, or maybe even twenty years ago, one would also have to wait to see their service provider via setting up formal meetings. Nowadays, due to technology and the fast paced world where results oriented practices is the fashion as opposed to the older days where establishment and name recognition really mattered, if you are not in place to deal with a problem as it arises, it is highly unlikely you will be kept on for any project. So, the more we are out there, the better.

In a nutshell, we have to be out there. Out there with a good name and a hard working spirit to boot. We prefer it that way too!

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