Consulting Services & Skills

Like ‘Analysis’, ‘Consulting’ is a term used with widely different connotations in modern business conversations. Like analysis, consulting is also a term that gets you thinking once you start trying to define it. I found it invaluable to spend some time unraveling “Consulting” and figuring out how to be a successful, respected consultant.

Fig. 1. Consulting Services

See also: what-is-consulting-definition

“The purpose of consulting is to help people solve problems and move from their current state to their desired state, which they may not be able to do by themselves as effectively, or as efficiently” – Krishna Deva

This paper discusses introductory answers to four questions:

    1. What does providing Consulting Services mean?
    2. When are Consulting Services required?
    3. What does it take to provide Consulting Services?
    4. Which are the Distinctive Skills for Consultants?

1. What does providing Consulting Services mean?

There are many views on what consultants do and what services they provide. I thought it would be important to begin from the demand side, to understand what providing consulting services means to the customer. After all, that is the raison d’etre for consultants, and it should be the context in which everything else about consulting services gets defined.

In trying to understand what consulting services could mean for the customer, we need to consider the results – the deliverables and the outcomes – that the customer gets. The ‘how’ of consulting is also a component of what consulting services mean, but not from the customer’s point of view. That is more important for the consulting provider to know and be good at. More of the ‘how’ in later sections.

Let’s begin our exploration of consulting services by understanding the expected deliverables and outcomes of providing consulting services.

  1. Deliverables of Consulting

The core of the deliverables from a consultant is usually a Report. The report typically begins with an “Executive Summary”, and contains the “Objectives of the Assignment” for which the consulting was undertaken, the “Facts and Data” that were considered, the established and credible “Bodies of Knowledge” that the consultant used, and the “Recommendations” of the ‘solution’ or ‘answer’ to the customer’s problem, or question.

Report

      1. Executive Summary
      2. Objectives of the Assignment
      3. Facts, Data & Studies
      4. Analysis (with ref to established bodies of knowledge)
      5. Recommendations

The thinking and analyses done by the consultant is inherent in the recommendations, and we can say that the report is a result of the consultant’s thinking. Typically, the detailed analyses and logic applied is not elaborated in the report unless the solution is heavily research oriented, or if it is complex and difficult to comprehend.

I have also seen many reports of consulting assignments where the Consultant was expected to validate and coherently re-present the analysis and solutioning done by the customer. In such cases the Consultant is ‘used’ as a credible third-party offering recommendations on which the insiders want a stamp of external, neutral approval.

In every case, it is an expectation that the recommendations, if followed, will lead to the outcomes desired, and will not create any new or bigger problems than might already be there. If anything, the recommendations are expected to reduce current problems by leveraging on as many synergistic opportunities as possible.

Typically, the Report is not only submitted but also presented by the consultant so that all implications of the contents are grasped completely, and any follow-up questions are addressed responsively and coherently.

The deliverables can be summarized in one line as follows:

“A Report including the Investigation, Learning, Research, Analysis and Experience-based Advice that Solves the Customer’s target problem/opportunity.”

2. Outcomes of Consulting

The primary outcome for the customer has to be their success, once they implement the recommendations. Without this expectation of success being met, the customer would never value the consulting exercise.

Another important outcome of consulting is the reputation it creates for the consultant. For a consultant, their reputation is critical to build up, because their credibility is important for the recommendations to be accepted, as well as for growth in their engagements. For a consultant, the two important elements in their reputation are respect for their caliber, and appreciation for what they are able to bring as outcomes.

The two outcomes from any successful consulting engagement are:

      1. Success for the Customer
      2. Respect and Appreciation for the Consultant

2. When are Consulting Services required?

These are the four situations in which consulting services are sought by customers:

    • When the Customer doesn’t know what the solution is
    • When the Customer doesn’t know what the problem is
    • When the Customer doesn’t know how to implement the solution
    • A combination of the above conditions, in any proportion

It may be natural to jump to the conclusion that consultants provide solutions, but the truth of the matter is that consultants often need to be called upon when the problem itself is not known or identifiable. For instance, a client organization might be suffering dropping productivity for the last two years, and a few initiatives may have been tried out by the management but did not help.

This would be a good point to bring in a consultant with more/diverse experience in resolving productivity issues. The consultant would be able to assess and analyze the realities within and around the organization to put together and propose solution options to the management.

Consultants with implementation experience are also sought out when the solution may have been identified and even detailed out to some extent to give the client confidence that it will work, but they may lack the capacity and capability to manage the execution/implementation. A consultant in this case would be a good temporary addition to their workforce to see through the solution to its effective implementation.

In general, consulting services are called upon in a wide variety of situations. Consultants may be sought out for any of the following types of solutions, and more:

Designing solutions to problems
Identifying the problem(s)
Competition analysis

Formulating strategy
Implementing new technology
Managing functions

And others…

3. What does it take to provide Consulting Services?

Consulting services typically follow the lifecycle outlined below. The sequence of stages/steps may be somewhat iterative depending on the situation and the ease/difficulty in accomplishing each stage, but the stages are all necessary to go through for the consultant.

The lifecycle of consulting can be visualized like the Greek symbol for ‘sigma’ (see Fig. 2 below). Starting at the point where the arrow points, follow the shape clockwise through the stages a, b, c, d, and e. The description of each stage is in the paragraphs that follow the figure.

Fig.2: Sigma of Consulting

a. Understanding the Problem from the Customer’s point of view

Consulting begins by building a good understanding of the ‘problem’ which the customer has articulated. It is important to identify all the opportunities that are being missed, as well as their effect on the ‘pain’ that is being created by those. Typically, the ‘pain’ is voiced by the customer and evident from data points of the outcome(s) not meeting desired goals.

P.R.O.B.L.E.M.: Perceived Risk of an Opportunity not Being Leveraged to Enhance the Meeting of goals. 

Understanding this ‘problem’ wisely is key to consulting.

b. Understanding the ground Realities 

Diving deeper into the causes and data, the next stage after identifying the problem(s) is to understand the realities of the situations in the customer’s organization and environment that have a bearing on the Customer’s pain points. Getting rid of biases and building a rich fabric of evidence and data is critical to correctly understand the reality, and therefore all the possible causes that lead to the effects.

This stage involves investigating all potential factors and functions, meeting various executives to understand their perspectives and experience, as well as to gather and analyze data for all relevant measures.

c. Applying Design Thinking & Problem Solving  

With a factual and unambiguous understanding of the problem and all the factors leading to it, this stage focuses on developing strategies and designing feasible solution options that have optimal impact and cost.

The steps typically follow this structure:

      • Define problem/focus/opportunity
        • Be Creative
        • Be Objective

Here is where lies the first opportunity for innovation. The creativity applied in finding new possibilities and definitions of the problem/focus/opportunity should lead to identifying obvious as well as not so obvious problems.

      • Conduct Causal AnalysisExplore all possible Cause-Effect relationships
      • Research for new/more causes/opportunitiesCritical Thinking

The findings of all research feed back into the earlier two steps above – Defining the problem, or Causal analysis.

      • Map and Correlate alternatives with impact areasDevelop Solution Sets

Going through the above steps helps in logical yet innovative solution sets, which can be compared for their respective benefits as well as costs and complexity.

d. Present Pros and Cons of Feasible Solution Options

The solution sets are presented to the customer stakeholders along with their pros and cons, and a Cost-Benefit Analysis for each solution set. Questions lead to refinement of the most suitable solutions.

e. Finalize the agreed upon Solution(s)

Build the Plan and complete the Consulting Report documentation for submission to the customer as the final deliverable.

4. Which are the Distinctive Skills for Consultants?

Distinctive Consulting Skills

This section calls out the skills and competencies that are critical for the consultant to demonstrate, for any consulting engagement to be effectively executed.

a. Customer orientation
i. Listening – to understand, appreciate the customer’s inputs and context
ii. Emotional Intelligence – to sense and prioritize pain points and opportunities
iii. Communication – specific, clear, relevant and up-front
iv. Retaining the focus on problem/benefit

b. Domain expertise – deep, broad, diverse – know/find out everything that could be relevant to the problem context, spanning all necessary facts, concepts, processes, procedures and principles of the domain and related domains.

c. Teleology – Inferences and conclusions based on teleology, discerning the purpose (effect) of every piece of information (cause) in the knowledge-map.
i. Critical Thinking
ii. Creativity
iii. Decision making

d. Communication skills
i. Language – must be the same as that of the client
ii. Written
iii. Drawn – [ref books by Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin, Draw to Win, Show and Tell)]
iv. Spoken – [ref Richard Chung (Compelling Communication-Oral Presentations)]
v. Presentation – https://summaries.com/blog/the-pop-up-pitch

e. ICT – Mastery of the Tools of Expression
Creativity has value only once it is expressed. Every creative person tends to be so because they master expression in the medium of their customer. When we are creating value for the customer, we need to master the medium(s) of creation that we (and the customer) choose to communicate in.

  1. Mastery over communication mediums.
    1. Written, Drawn, Spoken, Presented – Word, PowerPoint, diction
    2. Email – Microsoft Outlook (or any other email app of choice)
    3. Video conferencing – Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, etc.
    4. Contemporary with, and ahead of others

f. Soft skills
There are a host of soft skills that are important for a consultant’s success – focus, planning, patience, open-mindedness, etc. which are critical at various times, and a consultant picks the ones they need with experience.

Consulting is an immensely fulfilling engagement if it is done with integrity, sincerity, diligence, and also with curiosity, creativity, and passion. Consultants can be very influential in the trajectory of organizations and individuals. Consulting is one of the most respected professions, and gives you opportunities to study new and challenging situations, traveling and meeting people across the world. It is an engagement of responsibility and potential.

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Designing Goals

Well designed goals are a key strategic differentiator that great organizations, teams and individuals have from others.  How do we design goals that are better than others?

To begin with, we must understand the nature of Goals, and their interdependencies, so that we craft integral sets of goals that lead to success.  As is evident from experience, the only goals that people are likely to work towards purposefully, are the ones they understand, in the way they understand.

Goal Setting Semantics

Goals, Objectives, Targets, KRAs (Key Result Areas), KPAs (Key Performance Areas), are all used differently in different teams, and often much of the debate is simply about smantics.  It is useful to have a common, simple to understand (and remember) interpretation of them as we intend to use the terms.

One meaningful interpretation of the terms and the relationships between them is shown in the structure below:

Goals                                                   ←        (Come from the Vision, Mission of the Organizational Unit)

A.  KRAs                                   ←        (Areas of Interest for a Business, e.g. from the Balanced Score Card)

A.1  Objectives          ←        (Useful purpose, strategic)

A.1.1  Tactical sub-plan/endeavor (Useful action, tactics)                  Target 1                    (Worthwhile achievement)

A.1.2  ….                                                                                                                             Target 2                                    

 

Goal Matrix

The Goal Matrix is used to align and review goals across different roles in a function, and across all functions to ensure there is parity of goals assigned to roles at the same level, as well as to ensure that every target is worthwhile in working towards the strategic objectives, for every KRA, all of which work towards the Vision and Mission of the organization.

Goal Matrix

Components of the Organization, and their Goals

  1. Top Management – Strategic (Growth)
  2. Structural segments of the Organization – Allow several Degrees of Freedom (Flexibility and Specialization)
  3. Middle Management – Tactical (Improvement)
  4. Executive – Decisions and Actions leading to Quality (Creation of Value to meet Customer needs)

Goals need to be translated down from the top down, ensuring that while the core competencies of role-holders are leveraged, they are also challenged to grow the organization.  Business Development translates work possibilities/competencies to money, Delivery translates money to work/competencies.

Sideways too, goals need to be integrated and aligned across different functions and roles (see Goal Matrix below) within functions so that there is ‘equity’ and ‘parity’ between role-holders, and what they contribute to the bigger, organizational goal.

Articulation of Objectives

The way Objectives are articulated, each objective needs to have the following included in its articulation:

  1. Behavior, performance, direction of endeavor – e.g. Improve, minimize, maximize, reduce, increase, grow, etc.
  2. Condition – the condition(s) under which the endeavor is expected to be undertaken, by default it is in the current scope of the organization.  Also, each objective is to be understood in the context of every other objective in the set.
  3. Qualifier – this is a criterial measure that provides observable visibility of the degree of satisfaction of the objective and relates to the Target
  4. Target – this is the criterial target measure, which if achieved will mean that the objective has been met.

Choice of Objectives

A common confusion in choosing objectives arises from not being clear about whether the chosen objective is a cause or an effect.  The best objectives are ’causes’, and they lead to desired ‘effects’.  Setting the ‘effect’ as an objective hides the real ’causes’ that need to be worked at to meet the goals.

E.g. if the Goal is to “Double the market share” of a company, one objective could be “To increase the visibility of the Brand”, which is an ‘effect’ objective.  Another objective could be “To increase Sales by 300%”, which is a ’cause’ objective.  The effect objective is not wrong, but could prove to be limiting in its achievement, while the cause objective is more certain of achieving the goal, given the target of 300% has been set based on market and industry trends.

Check on Goals

  • Goals can be for ensuring we cause the targets to be met, or simply for the effect of meeting targets.
  • Responsibility is clearly taken and carried through
  • Improvement built into the objectives and targets, or must have Objectives crafted especially for improvement of performance aspects.
  • SMART check on Objectives and Tactical plans

— O —

Beyond the SWOT – the ESHF Framework

Enjoy, Suffer, Hope, Fear (ESHF)

Human beings are peculiar phenomena.  More than ability and logic, our decisions and actions are defined by our emotions and feelings.  Dan Areily has written about how our irrationality sets us apart.  Jonathan Haidt, and other psychologists preceded Dan in researching how this leads to creativity and to our happiness.

The ESHF Framework can help us become aware of the motivation and velocity we are moving with.  Projecting into the future Horizons (near/far/distant) we can take charge of our journey towards the goals that are important for us.  We always achieve what we want!

ESHF for:  _______________________________________________

E-njoy

Horizon

S-uffer

Horizon
NO
S

A

R

NOSAR do I enjoy working towards, thinking about, helping others for>

1/2/3 NO
S

A

R

NOSAR do I suffer (tolerate) working towards, thinking about, helping others for>

1/2/3

H-ope

Need

F-ear

Need
NO
S

A

R

NOSAR do I hope to have achieved, thought through>

NO
S

A

R

NOSAR do I fear will come in my way, or bring me pain>

* N: Needs; O: Objectives; S: Specifications; A: Activities; R: Results (Requirements)

— O —

Competencies to Achievement

How often have we wondered – “Well, everyone who was on this project had the right competencies, the skills that were required.  Yet the project failed to meet its deadlines and ran over budget.  We seemed to have all the ingredients yet it didn’t fly!”

Let us not assume the immense potential that people have, will automatically lead to what they will achieve just by placing them in a situation.  Of course the goal that trainers have is to maximize the realization of potential, but how many times have we seen this succeed in our own experiences.  In fact, we trainers have to realize that the objectives we train people towards themselves are only enabling objectives.  We frame them as: “At the end of this training, the learners will be able to do xyz…”.  The phrase to notice is ‘will be able to’.  Being able to do something, and actually doing something are two very different behaviors.

 Possibility > Competence > Rea??lity > Achievement > Result/Outcome

To derive the benefit from our skill/competency we must know the factors that become the intermediaries between skill/competency and achievement.  This is reality.  Our reality becomes evident in our motives and choices.  What lie between skill/competency and achievement are our motives or wants, our choices of actions and plans, and our ability to implement.

Skill/Competency      >        Wants             >        Actions           >        Achievement

Skill/Competency (potential)

Lets see what Competency and Skill means.

a)  Competency/Competence:      an important skill that is needed to do a job (Cambridge)

b) Skill:      i) An ability to do an activity or job well, especially because you have practiced it (Cambridge)

ii) The ability to do something that comes from training, experience, or practice (Webster)

Fig. 1.  Many Competencies get together into a Skill necessary for a job-role.  Several Skills are necessary in a job-role, and several Roles get together in a Function, many of which get together to form a Business.

Each of us begins by intuitively knowing or believing the competencies we have.  We’ve also been told of our competencies ever since our childhood, through school and on the job by our parents, teachers, friends, supervisors and colleagues.  Our beliefs are reinforced by the feedback and responses of our environment, of people around us.  We must realize that the response of our environment is based on what they perceive as our skill, which is the result of the practice of a competency of ours.

Skills are a result of successful practice of our competencies, chosen by our ‘want’ to practice them, from the opportunities presented by our environment, and in the ways we want to practice.  Assuming responsibility for our ‘wants’ gives us choices to make.  We choose our wants, our objectives.

Wants (Objectives)

WANT = Wish to Acquire Necessitated by Thought

What we want is typically driven by our values and the opportunities we perceive to increase our fulfillment of our values, of what we value, of our value.

VALUE = Virtuous Aspects of Life Ubiquitously Established

We identify objectives we want to achieve.  This choice of objectives is driven by our values, our environment, as well as what we believe our competencies and skills are.  We choose objectives that are meaningful for us, as well as which will be possible for us to achieve with our competencies and skills.

We work out plans for us to act on the objectives.  The more important the objective for us, the more commitment we have to the plan.  To be the best, the plan needs to break down the objective into a work breakdown structure that most effortlessly fulfills our objectives in the least time.  The choices we make at this time are about what the individual and interrelated tasks will be, and at what level of detail we will visualize and describe the tasks.

Do action (implement)

With the plan towards our objectives, we start working at the tasks outlined in the plan.  As we get into the execution of our planned tasks, we make choices about detailing the steps for ourselves, which sometimes happens deliberately, though usually it might happen the way we have always done those tasks, organically defined and flowing into the next tasks, etc.

The most important aspects to focus on in this stage are to focus, to execute, and to persist in making the effort to execute, always verifying whether we’re moving closer to our objectives as we think we should.  Many a time, reflecting occasionally on our Want can rejuvenate the focus for us.

We’ve all been in situations where an action we had decided to do seems to be failing to meet the objectives.  We have a choice at that time, of whether to continue, to stop and choose a different/modified action.  It is therefore important to be able to project the effect(s) of the actions we do.

Achieve (closure)

Finally, to keep doing something until the objective is met, is what becomes achievement.  The closure of action, the point after which the action is no longer needed, is possibly the most important to arrive at.  If we don’t achieve closure, our energies will continue to need to be spent in sustaining/continuing the action we were doing.

As we find our way to achievement, it becomes important for us to know how to modify (if required) the action so that achievement is brought closer.

Fig 2.  Achievement results from focusing our competencies into skills, setting objectives, planning, and then executing the plan with commitment to ourselves.

Fig.3.  S: Skills,  C: Competencies,  W: Wants,  A: Action plans, T: Training

Example:

Let’s take this example (Fig. 3.) where we are considering the hiring of candidate X, for working at and accomplishing the WORK of developing a working MIS.

In many situations you as the recruiter will not know how the outcome can be achieved.  You may not know what competencies and skills are required to achieve the outcome in the best possible way, in the least time and cost possible.  You may also not know what possible methods could be employed to arrive at the outcome.  We may assume you know some of the attributes and desired standards of development of the outcome.

At the point you start assessing the candidate, you also do not know much about them.

How should you go about selecting the best candidate for the job?

Competency, Performance, Achievement, Growth

Over time we all realize that the most important competency we need is the competency to assess competence. Without it we have no hope of leveraging the unfathomable potential of humans towards any achievement, and we become limited in what we can achieve ourselves.

In the beginning of our contributing and being useful in life, we contribute with our own achievements, driven by our own competencies. As we achieve more in response to the perpetual need to achieve more, we reach the thresholds of our own limitations. It becomes imperative then to be able to help others achieve more with their competencies, to stay together on the growth path, growing in what we achieve together.

We shall soon explore how competencies lead to achievements, what are the intermediate stages and steps, and how we can direct them better.