People are living today in the information age, which means that ever-increasing amounts of data are continually emerging. As stated by Sophocles, “No enemy is worse than bad advice,” an idea consistent with the modern needs of organizations (Margerison 2018, p. 28). Therefore, companies and leaders must have the skills to understand the context of their organizational operations as well as challenges and possible solutions to problems that arise. In this connection, business consultants are key facilitators of positive change based on thorough analysis and relevant recommendations. This paper aims to examine the role of a business consultant, the five stages of the consulting process, and the skills and qualities necessary to successfully implement these skills in practice.
Role of Consultants in Business Analysis and Consultancy
Successful companies and managers largely depend on qualified business consultants who play a strategic role in improving both organizational and individual performance. The paramount task of a business advisor is to assess a company’s current situation, identify problems and opportunities, and suggest potential solutions or recommendations (Hu et al. 2014). Even though this process may seem simple, the requirement to gather much information before formulating advice is a complicating factor. Not only are the details involved in the issues under consultancy important, but employees’ feelings about them are also significant (Zhang, Levenson & Crossley 2015). It is thus necessary to contact the people working for a company at different levels, interviewing them to obtain their perceptions, expectations, and needs (Hillon, Kisiel & Hillon 2016). Thus, a business consultant will conduct a full-fledged analysis of all developed concepts and new methods of work. In doing so, the consultant must be sure to follow the principles of ethics, justice, and corporate conduct.
When data has been collected and processed, the role of business consultants involves helping clients to adopt change and succeed in either a short- or long-term perspective, depending on the goals that were set initially. According to Lăzăroiu (2015), it is critical, for example, to ensure that clients learn to perform new tasks, enhance safety, or increase profits. In other words, advisors should focus their actions on improving or sustaining the standards accepted in the company. This may be identified as the promotion of knowledge management that beneficially affects organizations (Obeidat et al. 2016). Knowledge acquisition, sharing, and usage also encourage boosting innovation and creating a competitive advantage. Frequently, a business consultant’s conclusions are the deciding factor as to whether a company will develop and grow in the given market conditions as a knowledge-intensive business (Hipp, Gallego & Rubalcaba 2015). Moreover, the absence of mistakes can guarantee a full and profitable return for entrepreneurs as well as a successful rivalry with competing enterprises, assuring quality in an unstable economic arena.
Stages of a Consultancy Project
The consulting project process consists of several sequential stages that are decisive with regard to each other. In the first stage, entry and contracting, the client and consultant agree on a contract, clarify needs and offers, and examine the readiness of the company to change (Lippitt & Lippitt 1986). In particular, such issues as the capability to transform, resources, time, and internal commitment are discussed to find a mode of cooperation. The second stage implies that a dialogue between the two sides will help to establish the relationship between them (Lippitt & Lippitt 1986). During this stage, the expected outcomes and goals should be clarified in order to facilitate assigning tasks to the responsible persons and forge agreements about the milestones of the consulting project.
The specification of the problem through diagnostic analysis is accomplished in the next stage, providing a detailed exploration of the barriers that impede change. At this stage, Lippitt and Lippitt (1986) recommend constructing an overview data-flow diagram to assess the existing situation with an eye to using the result as a tool to adjust all fragments and identify deficiencies. This preliminary study can take from two days to four weeks, depending on the complexity of the situation (Block 2011). By the end of this process, the analyst should reasonably be able to evaluate the benefits of introducing a new system as well as justify the time and cost of the next development step: planning for action (Mauerer & Nissen 2014). The results of the preliminary study will then be considered by the appropriate level of management, who will authorize any action to be taken on the basis of the information provided.
In planning goals, the client is expected to have a clear understanding of the desired outcome. A sequence of steps to reach the goals may be formulated to allow a full picture of the goals to be addressed (Block 2011). Next, the key stage of engagement and implementation involves helping employees develop needed skills that are useful for accomplishing their objectives; in this process, even small amounts of success should be recognized as an important motivating factor. Block (2011) considers feedback to be a pertinent instrument that should be applied to assess progress and adjust actions, reporting necessary details to the responsible persons. Ultimately, the last stage of the consulting process is associated with extending, terminating, or recycling the project (Lippitt & Lippitt 1986). It is also recommended to develop a plan for an ongoing review of the client’s system to support the maintenance of progress made. The transfer of training skills is likely to ensure knowledge management success and further periodic improvements.
Skills and Qualities Required at Each Stage
For business consultancy clients, it is important to know whether consultants have experience in implementing similar projects, to identify the set of consulting methods they use, and to determine if they are familiar with market specifics. Therefore, the qualification of employees is a main competitive advantage for consulting organizations, yet the majority of consulting companies are faced with a shortage of specialists (Hoffman et al. 2016). It is possible to identify three categories of professional skills and qualities that consultants need, including knowledge and skills in the field of management practice, the ability to communicate, and competence in the area of organizational specialization.
The first stage of the consulting process requires consultants to be aware of consulting, technical, and interpersonal skills. The professional competencies in the entrance stage include the ability to engage clients in joint activities, provide clarity in the choice of priorities and resources, and ensure consistency in data analysis (Martinez, Ferreira & Can 2016). At the same time, it is essential to handle a client’s mixed motivations and address concerns regarding the potential loss of control by practicing a flexible response to environmental change and customer requests. Critical thinking is important in making triangular and rectangular contracts (Bruhn, Karlan & Schoar 2018). For example, some employers may be afraid of the risk of failure as a result of change if they consider their employees unprepared to take on additional duties. In this case, it is better to move to the second stage of discovery, interviewing employees and assessing their attitudes regarding a new course of action.
During the discovery and problem analysis stages, consultants are expected to identify and explore various layers of situational analysis. Building on the above example, it is possible to state that conversational/communicative skills should be applied, viewing the interview as an intervention. In addition, the political, economic, and cultural climate of the company should be taken into account to properly determine any problems and their impact. Adesi, Owusu-Manu, and Badu (2015) stress that decision-making skills in situations that are characterized by high dynamism and uncertainty as well as managing resources and predicting the enterprise’s work are valuable. Informational competence facilitates using modern information and communication technologies, while responsibility, dedication, business communication skills, self-education, and self-regulation also matter.
In order to set meaningful objectives, a consultant should ensure planning for action and feedback. Data funneling skills must be used to reveal and report the most important aspects of the problem to managers (Margerison 2018). Both organizational and personal data related to people should be clearly identified. In the case that some managers are not willing to change due to such concerns as time, remuneration, or any other constraints, the consultant should quickly and deeply delve into their psychology (van Beekum 2015). In this activity, the advisor must be able to empathize and use selective stimulation for staff to work with different forms of resistance. The necessary qualities for this endeavor include courage, patience, modesty, sincerity, and compassion.
Problem-centered or solution-centered behavior comprises a key skill for a consultant in the implementation stage. For example, every firm will inevitably encounter serious risks, each of which must be taken into account. The variety of pitfalls will be unique for every project and can constantly change in an unpredictable direction (Debortoli, Müller & vom Brooke 2014). Therefore, one of the most challenging tasks for an analyst is recognizing risks, which can be achieved by applying such skills as critical thinking. Muhammad et al. (2014) report that the concept of business intelligence (BI) lies in processing data to obtain metadata, to be analyzed and used in the future for forecasting and decision-making. As shown by data from international consulting agencies, this class of software is representative of products with the highest return on investment (Debortoli, Müller & vom Brooke 2014). Thus, it is possible to conclude that BI skills can also be effective at this stage.
Coaching qualities, knowledge management, and the formation of the necessary competencies of clients are important in motivating customers to continue to cooperate and educate themselves through training. The indispensable personal qualities of a consultant should be directed to achieving and maintaining strategic sustainability (Buxel, Esenduran & Griffin 2015). Energy, initiative, the ability to quickly navigate through changing situations and find solutions—all these qualities must be associated with professional erudition. Cultural, communicative, managerial, training, economic, and special knowledge skills are essential for all the stages.
Critique of Consulting Stages
The consulting process not only provides feasible and measurable solutions to organizations but also affects teams. Ko (2014) believes that client-consultant mutual trust is the cornerstone of effective consulting and is essential to establish in the first stage of engaging. The ideas of Lippitt and Lippitt (1986) regarding the creation of relationships appear pertinent, yet it should be noted that a mere exploration of a company’s goals is not sufficient. Instead, consultants should be accountable for employees’ trust in each other, employers, and the concept of change. The increased effectiveness of the next step of discovery can be achieved via comprehending group thinking patterns (Amelec 2015). In cases where groupthink exists in a company, the consultant will have a priority to identify the fears of employees that might make them follow group behaviors and prevent them from applying problem-solving skills. This issue is consistent with the second and third stages of the consulting process discussed earlier in this paper.
The stage of action planning may be obstructed by group conformity since team members may have difficulties imagining the expected change results led by common sense. According to Krivokapić and Jaško (2015), the business environment of an organization may specify how the majority of employees behave as well as formal or informal leaders. For instance, Gaumer, Cotleur, and Arnone (2014) note that college students who take the role of consultants often encounter resistance in response to their actions, showing the need to focus on how group conformity might be handled in specific conditions. One solution offered by Stein (2017) emphasizes the positive impact of an active listening strategy to understand what employees actually want to say.
Social loafing is another challenge that may be faced by business consultants during the last two stages of action/feedback and completion/recycling. Schippers (2014) defines social loafing in team projects as the tendency to make fewer efforts toward a common goal compared to individual tasks. It is critical to point out the fact that agreeableness and conscientiousness should be targeted to eliminate this phenomenon (Ying et al. 2014).
The potential five dysfunctions of team projects elaborated by Lencioni (2014) include avoidance of accountability, lack of commitment, absence of trust, fear of conflict, and inattention to results. Often during the implementation phase, new problems arise, or false assumptions and planning errors are revealed. It is vital to monitor and manage changes to facilitate adjusting the original optimization plan. These issues are representative of the last stages of consulting when the role of the advisor is to provide motivation, learning, and sustainability (Wilke 2014). Some researchers suggest that the use of value mapping or a mobile learning game is likely to improve cooperation between team members (Bocken, Rana & Short 2015; Gaul 2015; Lee et al. 2016). Thus, group analysis is essential for promoting, implementing, and monitoring the progress of change as the ultimate purpose of the consulting process.
In conclusion, it was discussed that the consulting process consists of several stages including entry, discovery, problem identification, setting goals, implementation, and completion. Among the key skills and qualities that are significant for business consultants, creative thinking, decision-making, communication, empathy, motivation, and conflict resolution were identified as imperative. In the process of planning and providing consultations, team project dysfunctions, including groupthink, conformity, and other factors should be addressed by value mapping, open conversations, and an increase in the conscientiousness of managers and employees.
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