Consultants in the Hen House

Monday Nov 12th 2007 by Steve Andriole
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Many of us who hire well-known consulting firms have more tales of woe than glee. Isn't it time we groomed internal consultants?

Consulting training programs are everywhere. But there’s a gap between generic consulting programs and programs that focus on consulting knowledge and skills leverageable within companies, on internal consulting.

I realize that “consulting” has a checkered image – and that’s probably being kind. Many of us who hire the usual suspects – Accenture, PWC, IBM, Deloite, EDS, Bearing Point, etc. – have more tales of woe than glee. But there are definitely “good” consultants out there from which we can learn good ol’ fashioned business analysis, solid negotiation and persuasion skills and the ability to prioritize and execute – among other skills.

Just about every company on the planet could use more good internal consultants. Yet I hear very little about importing consulting knowledge and skills into the enterprise. Most companies still appear to be more interested in hiring good (and sometimes evil) external consultants. There is a better – and cheaper – way.

Internal consultants are different from external consultants in several important ways. First, they exist within an existing and semi-permanent organization with its own distinct culture. This alone distinguishes internal from external consultants. Second, internal consultants must endure the consequences of their own success or failure. Unlike external consultants, who get to leave the company when a project ends, internal consultants work within a company’s organization and culture sometimes for decades. This dramatically changes the risk profile for internal consultants.

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Where do internal consultants come from? They are recruited and they are grown.

Some companies recruit consultants into their companies as “change agents” or simply as an attempt to add different professionals to their ranks. Other companies grow them internally by investing in training programs that select the professionals best able to play the role of internal consultant.

Growing is better than recruiting simply because internal consultants – if they are carefully selected – have credibility within the organization. They also know the company, its culture and the business models and processes that generate the profit that keeps the whole thing going. External consultants have to earn their stripes with skeptical managers nearly every time they tee it up. Growing is also better because investments in internal consultants are likely to pay dividends for extended periods of time so the return on the training investment is generally good.

So what are the skills? What might an internal consulting training program look like? First, there should be an emphasis on the consulting process following by an emphasis on specific knowledge and skills, as suggested below:

The Consulting Process

• Identify a Meaningful Problem
• Assess the Appetite for Solutions
• Determine Likely Costs & Risks
• Find the Right Sponsors
• Develop a Value/Cost/Risk Business Case
• Realistically Define the Project
• Chunk the Steps
• Execute
• Revisit the Value/Cost/Risk Business Case
• Continue to Conclusion & Reporting

Consulting Knowledge and Skills

Knowledge of:

• The Business (the Business & the Business)
• Multiple Functional Areas

Skills to:

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• Listen – & Translate
• Synthesize
• Communicate
• Negotiate
• Influence & Persuade
• Write
• Present …

I cannot stress enough the need for wide and deep knowledge of the business. Really good consultants understand business models and processes on all levels. They understand what keeps managers up at night and how to make managers heroes. They understand business pain and pleasure first and technology second – which is not to say that they do not understand technology widely or deeply but rather that their understanding of business models and processes drives how they leverage technology.

Why all this emphasis on internal consulting knowledge and skills? Because many technology professionals – as wonderful as they are – are unable to analyze, prioritize or communicate as well as they should with their business partners. Some organizations have responded to this challenge by creating “Business Relationship Managers” but these professionals tend to be more glib than professionally trained.

It’s time to invest in formal consulting skills training in your organization if you want to really leverage technology on to business. I predict that there will be a lot of professionals interested in formal internal consulting training – many more than you might think.

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