Organizations engage management consultants for a variety of reasons, from needing a specified skill set and broad cross-industry knowledge to wanting help managing change and providing new perspectives. Each company is unique, as are the experiences and capacities of the consultants. There is, however, a certain “buy-in” that management consultants ought to bring to the table before they can sit down and engage. These are the attributes that indicate to you, as the client, that this consultant is prepared to ‘roll up their sleeves” with you and deliver positive results.
In their seminal work, Consulting to Management, Larry E. Grenier and Robert O. Metzger identified nine key traits of an effective management consultant. While their book was published in 1983 and much has changed in the consultancy world, these qualities are very much relevant – and very much necessary in effective engagements. They are:
- Ethical Standards. The value of a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) to an organization is that he/she adheres to a very strict Code of Conduct. Professionalism and ethics are of the utmost importance, and CMCs hold confidentiality sacred, work objectively, do not favour one party or another, and only engage in projects about which they are knowledgeable and in which they can provide value.
- Empathy and Trust. A consultant can be considered a Stranger in a Strange Land; employees, management, and even many C-level executives are wary. Gaining trust, maintaining confidentiality, and communicating with empathy help break down these initial barriers.
- Positive Outlook. Organizations face great uncertainty and complexity; to take steps in a sustainable, positive direction, they need to feel confidence in a consultant’s recommendations. The consultant also needs to think positively about the organization in order to create and deliver viable solutions.
- Self-Motivation. Every day brings its own challenges; consultants have to be self-directive and motivated to change with the needs of their client and the organization. Organizations are often “stuck;” they cannot afford to engage consultants who need prompting.
- Team Player. Building on that trust, consultants must be willing to be part of the team, to work with clients.
- Self-Fulfillment. According to the CMC Guidebook, “Consultants must learn to recognize their own sense of accomplishment and move on from defeats.” Likewise, they have to instill this into their clients, helping them celebrate wins and recover and learn from missteps.
- Accessibility. During a project, a consultant is always “on-call.” He/she must be available to handle the regularly scheduled duties, as well as those urgencies that arise – usually at most inconvenient times! She must be positive, motivated, and empathetic to the others who are also being called on to work outside the “normal” workday.
- Energy. This very much relates to accessibility; a consultant is often called upon to work irregular hours or to manage complexities. Without taking steps to maintain energy, she does not do her clients any good. Again, this is applicable to teams: eat right, meditate, exercise, and sleep – when you can!
- Self-Awareness. Just as consultants must understand the strengths and weaknesses of their clients, so too, must they understand their own in order to compensate, accommodate, and deliver.
What is interesting about these qualities is that they apply to both consultant and client. In successful engagements, both are able to display, develop, and strengthen these attributes in order to achieve goals.