Consulting is a type of the intellectual activity whose main task is to analyze, substantiate the prospects for the development, and use innovations, taking into account the subject area and customer problems. The need for consulting arises when it is necessary to understand what hinders the development of a company and in what direction it should be developed. The issues that consulting specialists have to face are extremely diverse, including product expansion, advertising campaigns, management structure, et cetera. The pivotal goal of a consultant is to improve the quality of management, increase the efficiency of companies, and enhance the individual productivity of employees. This paper focuses on the critique of skills and qualities to be applied by consultants at each of the five stages of the constancy cycle based on scholarly evidence.
Critique of Skills Requires at Stages of the Consultancy Project
Initial Entry and Contracting
This stage is characterized by the beginning of the work of a consultant and a client. Both sides hold preliminary negotiations on the possibility of cooperation, there is a first discussion of the problem and possible ways to solve it. The important skills necessary for consultants at this stage are finding a common language and mutual understanding with the target company (Gaumer, Cotleur & Arnone 2014). By contributing to the awareness of the need for counseling and clarifying the signing of a contract for the provision of consulting services are also essential. The initial entry and contracting require consultants to use their active listening skills to make sure that they properly comprehend the situation and ask questions. Ang, Cheng, and Wu (2015) state that it is important to reiterate the problem using the client’s language to build trust and openness. The authors find that the trustworthiness of partners is likely to positively impact the outcomes of the cooperation.
The ability to specify expectations from the project is another significant skill that should be practiced by business consultants. When the client described his or her problem, the consultant should also make some suggestion regarding what is expected at the result of their work (Lăzăroiu 2015). This stage implies that consultants are to demonstrate such qualities as a high level of cultural awareness, honesty, prudence and commitment to responsibilities set by the profession, and role modeling. For example, in case the ability to assist the company is inherent in the words of the consultant, it is more likely that the employer would hire him or her and clarify the problem in an in-depth manner.
Critical thinking should be noted among other skills that are essential to identify the client’s readiness to change and what exactly would be considered success (Bloch & Spataro 2014). More to the point, the mentioned skill may be applied to share information about the ways of initiating new practices that fit the client’s expectations. Thus, the set of the skills and qualities are to be directed at making the first contact with the company effective for further cooperation.
Problem Identification and Data Collection
At this stage, the consultants begin diagnostics of the client company, collecting data and, as a result, forming a comprehensive picture of the enterprise’s activities. Data collection is necessary to analyze the context and problem, conduct extensive diagnostics, and obtain financial, economic, organizational, or technical condition, creating the vision of the future state of the company (Calvo-Mora et al. 2014). The consultant should perform the role of the informer, processing various kinds of information. In particular, the work of employees should be observed, comparing it with the goals to be achieved as agreed in the contract. More ideas can be acquired during the communication with managers who aware of all the changes affecting the work of employees, informing them about it, and explaining the company’s policy.
The communicative and interpersonal skills compose the foundation for the work of consultants in terms of the second stage. Namely, ease of establishing contacts, maintaining a conversation, and insisting on some arguments are extremely important. Sung and Ashton (2014) stress that the utilization of the ability to understand everything that happens between people and comprehend the meaning of their actions, experiences, thoughts, and aspirations helps to realize the inner meaning of situations. It is especially important to be able to be aware not only of what concerns others but also of one’s behavior as well as reactions in specific situations of interpersonal communication (Sung & Ashton 2014). In case the client company employees struggle to interact adequately, consults may offer training on the development of communication skills is an opportunity in a safe environment through games or exercises. Based on effective communication, the consultant is expected to explain the significance and nature of the problems to other departments or partners.
To support the next stage of the consultancy process, the experts need to synthesize information, which can be done via the visual representation of facts. Sibbet and Wendling (2018) point out that data during visualization can be converted into a form that enhances the perception and analysis of this information. For example, a map, graph, timeline, and diagram allow developing complex concepts, ideas, and plans (Bocken, Rana & Short 2015). Strategic visualization focuses on various data on aspects of the work of organizations. These are all sorts of diagrams of performance, life cycles, and graphs of the structures of organizations.
Decision to Act
Dialogue building skill is the most critical during the stage of determining the action to be performed. Margerison (2018) reports that this is significant for the consultant to demonstrate the data obtained from the company in a meaningful and manageable way. In other words, the whole data sets should be reduced to several theses so that employees can easily understand it. Once the data is ready, the consultant needs to provide feedback on the problem and assume the ways to address it. Such qualities as the ability to project a winning image and being truthful are valued by employers (Margerison 2018). In an attempt to satisfy the client, many consultants decide to exaggerate the potential of the company, which inevitably leads to mistakes. Therefore, they should be open and honest while giving feedback and showing data.
The new ways to organize the work of the company or introduce any other change meet some resistance, especially when it concerns critical points. The ability to handle such opposite behaviors illustrates the skills of conflict resolution and team building. The qualities of the consultant at this stage are associated with making decisions. While looking for new ways to achieve goals and taking full responsibility for the risk related to them, he or she should have a list of potential solutions. To select the most appropriate one, the resources, actives, stakeholders, and any other critical points of the company should be assessed.
In their turn, negotiation skills that are beneficial to eliminate resistance include respect for interlocutors, withstanding the psychological pressure of opponents, managing one’s emotional state, and keeping a non-verbal contact. The ability to respond quickly and effectively to changing situations along with the preparation for negotiations largely determines their success, so it is extremely important to be able to prepare them qualitatively. The evidence shows that people with high emotional intelligence negotiate more effectively using the awareness of what is happening during the conversation (Carson, Carson & Birkenmeier 2016). These consultants know how to involve the necessary emotions and manage the opponent’s emotions in negotiations, which allows them to make well-considered decisions, find new ways of cooperation, and more often come to the best decision.
The consultant is an innovator who understands the role of science in modern conditions, being able to evaluate and promptly introduce into production an invention or propose innovation and identify their benefits. For example, Muhammad et al. (2014) propose the importance of business intelligence (BI) for the constancy projects, focusing on the reliable analytics in a convenient format, on the basis of which one can make effective decisions for managing business processes.
Implementation and Improvement
Meetings and engagement are the two preliminary activities that require teaching and convincing skills from consultants. It may be several training meetings or one session devoted to what will be done and who will be responsible (Szabla et al. 2017). After that, the activities planned during the previous stage are performed guided by the consultant who remains involved until the end of the project. In general, the consultants should provide recommendations regarding the planned change and ensure that every employee performs his or duty so that the overall company’s operation improves. The skills required at this stage are flexibility, confidence, and persistence. While some challenges may affect the alteration of the planned interventions, it is still critical to follow the specified course and remain committed to the ultimate goal.
Such qualities as role modeling and serving as an example need to be adopted by the business consultants in their work during the stage of implementation. It should be anticipated that errors or people may impede the success of the project, and the role of the consultant is to motivate employees to continue their efforts (Adizes, Cudanov & Rodic 2017). In other words, they should be engaged in the process of enhancing the client company’s performance by contributing to its success. In case a team member faces challenges, the consultant is responsible for applying communicative and interpersonal skills as well to assist him or her via the open conversation. The client is likely to share with any problems appearing during the implementation and wait for an appropriate response from the consultant, and the latter should justify the trust of the former.
Extension, Recycle, or Termination (Benefits and Evaluation)
The objectives of the project completion stage are to evaluate what has been done and compare the actual results obtained with the planned ones. At this stage, an analysis of the extent of deviations and causes of their occurrence is carried out, and additional corrective actions are being developed (Szabla et al. 2017). The consultants report on the work done and discuss it with the client to determined further actions: extended cooperation, repetition, or termination of their joint work. Critical thinking is the key skill that should be used during this stage to consider the benefits of the change and possible pitfalls that can be targeted within further cooperation. The ability to correctly and fully present the results also requires the consultant to be accurate and candid. In so doing, the expert should make sure that both technical and social contents are vibrant and evidence-based.
At this final stage, the consultant is to employ a set of skills and qualities to demonstrate the effectiveness of their joint work with the client. From the technical perspective, the results should be authoritative, innovative, repeatable, and credible, which can be proved in case the client adopts them and observes measurable improvements in the company (Szabla et al. 2017). The social perspective implies that the consultant used the language of the customer and addresses the problem specified at the first stage. It is to be supplemented by the ability of the specialist to explain any misunderstanding and objections of the client who should find clear net benefits (Martinez, Ferreira & Can 2016). Sociability is the key to establishing proper relationships with the client and his or her team across the project to help them with all problems and concerns.
The idea about the continuous development of the consultant and going further seems to be the cornerstone of a qualified business assistant. He or she needs to view the so-called big picture and offer thought-provoking insights to customers to help them with connecting various small parts of the same decision. Accordingly, once the cycle of the consultancy is done, they can come up with more suggestions to create long-term collaboration with the given company.
Reflection on Personal Learning
While working on the team project, I have learned various skills that I consider vital for a good consultant. It is clear to me that each of the stages is associated with particular qualities, which is discussed in the previous section of the paper. Therefore, I would like to pay attention to those skills that are important for the whole consultancy process. First, consultants should provide error-free deliverables, which can be accomplished by taking into account all the details (Caniëls, De Stobbeleir & De Clippeleer 2014). For example, when collecting data and identifying the problem, not only managers but also some employees who can be informal leaders or the most active team members should be interviewed. In my point of view, critical thinking on a big picture is beneficial, yet without details, it becomes rather challenging to integrate all components of the suggested solution. Second, having resourcefulness is essential for those consultants who want to rapidly and properly handle emerging difficulties. Flexibility and openness in communication would inevitably lead to success.
To conclude, this paper discovered a range of skills and qualities that consultants should possess at each of the stages of working with client companies. It was revealed that the initial entry and contracting require attention to details, adopting the customer’s language, and trying to understand the core of the problem. The problem-centered behavior, decidedness, and relationship building were noted among the skills necessary for the second stage. Furthermore, the data collection stage is related to communicative and interpersonal skills as well as the ability to ensure transparency. The two last stages should be accompanied by decision-making, critical thinking, coaching, and a focus on the continuity of the cooperation with the client company.
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