Management consulting is an independent, professional advisory service assisting managers and organizations to achieve organizational purposes and objectives by solving management and business problems, identifying and seizing new opportunities, enhancing learning, and implementing changes.
Source: Management Consulting: A Guide to the Profession, 4th ed., Milan Kubr, ed., 2002, International Labour Organization.
Professional management consultants are contracted by organizations to provide objective and independent advice. Advisory services may include identification and analysis of management problems, developing solutions, and the implementation of proposed solutions.
Professional management consultants may be asked to provide objective advice that will help an organization plan, solve business problems, or manage change, including business start-up, growth or expansion, reorganization, renewal, diversification, downsizing, disposal of assets, planning, review of operations, launching new corporate initiatives or projects, and/or acquiring and implementing technology.
In general, business management consultants:
- Work within the parameters of a Statement of Work that has been accepted by a client in response to a Call for Proposals that includes a definition of requirements.
- Define the nature and extent of a project by gathering information to better define needs, understand context and interdependencies, and to explore possible alternative solutions.
- Analyze the data collected and use their background knowledge and experience to develop recommendations for enhancing strategic direction and better aligning operations, methods, systems, and/or procedures.
- Present their recommendations to the client organization and, if their recommendations are accepted, assist in implementing those recommendations.
Professional management consultants are hired when an organization lacks sufficient resources or expertise, or requires external objective advice. Most management consultants specialize in helping organizations solve particular types of problems, challenges, or changes.
There are as many specializations as there are types of business problems and challenges. The following are a few possibilities:
- Finance consultants provide advice on matters such as pricing securities, business valuation, and economic forecasting.
- Human resources consultants advise about recruitment practices, compensation and benefits packages, pension funding, workforce diversification, and employee development programs.
- Litigation consultants work with lawyers to develop case strategies, courtroom exhibits and tactics, and provide economic analyses.
- Marketing consultants work with companies seeking innovative ways to market new or existing products and services.
- Operations consultants help organizations increase productivity by improving business processes.
- Organizational change consultants work with clients undergoing a fundamental re-orientation in the way the organization operates.
- Quality management consultants help organizations improve the quality of their products and services.
- Strategy consultants help organizations develop broad directions for the foreseeable future and providing advice on aligning the organization with chosen strategies (which may include developing a growth strategy, restructuring, marketing internationally, buying/selling assets, or revitalizing leadership).
- Technology consultants help organizations implement new technologies for optimal effectiveness.
Consulting as a Career
As with any profession, there is no one perfect model against which every entrant can be measured. While commitment to the profession is critical, there are certain characteristics that increase the consultant's chance of success and personal job satisfaction. In management consulting, particular importance is attached to: analytical and problem-solving abilities, behavioral competencies, communicating and working with people, and helping others understand the need for change and how to implement it. As a prerequisite, consulting is based upon a foundation of advanced business or technical education, industry and business management experience, a technical skill relevant to business, and the capacity to work collaboratively in a project environment.Consultants, like other professionals, hold strong values concerning the conduct of their work. Since a consultant's most valuable asset is his or her reputation, successful consultants have a strong sense of ethics. CMC-Canada has developed a Uniform Code of Professional Conduct for its members. Since consulting is currently unregulated, this Code offers some protection to the public, and outlines the consultant's responsibility to the client. As a general rule, consultants are expected to place their client's interest ahead of their own.
There are many routes into consulting. The most common are:
- Entry-level positions with larger consultancies, the majority of whom offer extensive training, mentoring and a variety of project experiences.
- Positions with medium-sized firms or internal consulting groups, who often look for some experience and place importance on an advanced business or technical degree, a relevant area of recognized expertise (a professional designation, for example) and business management experience.
- Independent consulting which makes sense for those with an advanced business or technical degree, extensive industry and business management experience or specialized expertise, and an aptitude for business development.
Qualities of a Consultant
- Intellectual ability
- Ability to learn quickly and easily
- Ability to observe, gather, select, and evaluate facts
- Good judgment
- Inductive and deductive reasoning
- Ability to synthesize and generalize
- Creative imagination and original thinking
- Ability to understand people and work with them
- Respect and tolerance for other people
- Ability to anticipate and evaluate human reactions
- Ability to gain trust and respect
- Courtesy and good manners
- Ability to communicate, persuade, and motivate
- Ability to listen
- Facility in oral and written communication
- Ability to share knowledge, teach, and train people
- Ability to persuade and motivate
- Intellectual and emotional maturity
- Stability of behaviour and action
- Independence in drawing unbiased conclusions
- Ability to withstand pressures, and live with frustrations and uncertainties
- Ability to act with poise, in a calm and objective manner
- Flexibility and adaptability to changed conditions
- Personal drive and initiative
- Right degree of self-confidence
- Healthy ambition
- Entrepreneurial spirit
- Courage, initiative, and perseverance in action
- Ethics and integrity
- Genuine desire to help others
- Extreme honesty
- Ability to recognize the limitations of one's competence
- Ability to admit mistakes and learn from failure