When asked what it is that I do, it is often with a sense of irony that I explain about my job as a management consultant, as the term “consultant”; in Nepal is often synonymous with the growing number of consultancies in the education and foreign employment sector.
Subsequently, I am often asked questions like “Where do you send people?” On clarifying that I am not an educational consultant or a manpower consultant but a management consultant, the next question comes back to square one: “So what exactly do you do?”
WHAT I ACTUALLY DO AS A MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT?
If I were to tell people that I advise companies on the standardization and planning of finance, I am more likely to be taken as an accountant or auditor. As there is an entire gamut of work that consultants undertake, and terms familiar to people only scrape the surface, explaining it can become quite difficult. To put it as simply as I can, management consultants assist managers and businesses to achieve their goals and objectives by solving management and business problems, identifying and seizing new opportunities, and improving business performance.
In the world of management consulting, there is a constant need for knowledge building and growth. Each time there is a new business problem in any industry, a solution must be found. This undoubtedly provides numerous opportunities of exposure and challenges which builds up experience and profile. I feel quite fortunate to have been part of several such assignments both at the local and international level, where working across diverse industries has put my capability and bandwidth to the test. While there are times when the job gets extremely challenging and you end up working really long hours to ensure that clients are at peace, these are also times which showcase your caliber.
To me, one of the best things about my job in the consulting business is that it has provided me with inordinate opportunities to grow; not just at the beginning of my career, but also in the years that have followed. The most rewarding part of the job is when you see that the knowledge you put together and shared, the relationships you built during engagements, and the inputs you provided come to fruition.
Having worked as a consultant for over six years at beed, here are my pointers on how you could become a successful management consultant.
- MAINTAINING DISCIPLINE
Discipline is an important aspect of the consulting business. This includes both personal and professional discipline. Adhering to time and being punctual while meeting project deadlines is extremely important. Although your client may keep you waiting especially in Nepal, where being late by 15-20 minutes is considered to be normal, they will start adhering to it once they are aware of your punctual behavior.
- UPDATING CLIENTS AND MEETING DEADLINES
Keeping the client updated about the progress of the project and meeting deadlines are also very important. Every week a short email or a conference call with the client, will keep the client up to date about the project status. This will also allow you to seek help (if required) from the client before it gets too late. If you are not able to meet deadlines due to un-avoidable circumstances, you need to appraise the client on time and discuss the same with them, as last minute red flags can affect client behavior and have a negative impact on your relationship.
- DEALING WITH REQUESTS
Finding the right balance and being conscious of the time when requests come in is very important. We rush to help or try and provide additional services (pro-bono) to the clients even when they have not really sought for help. We merely tend to do it to maintain a relationship and rapport with the client from a courtesy perspective. It is also important to note the kinds of requests. Sometimes clients ask for services which are not mentioned in the contract. If these services are not paid for and are additional to the scope of work, it does require additional time to manage it which adds to the work already in hand. Hence, you have to be conscious and decide what the right time to address the issues is and prioritize on issues that need to be addressed immediately. Do not rush into solving requests without planning and do not overdo it.
- PRIORITIZING WORK
Prioritizing tasks is the key to success and delivery in this job. Every morning, try and run through the tasks you need to complete during the day and list them down by prioritizing the important ones first. Then accordingly you can commence your work. At the end of the day, always make a point to run through the to-do list of the day and tick tasks which are completed. If something is left undone, then make sure that the task is completed within the week so that there is no carry-over work for the next week.
- MAKING JUDGMENT CALLS
During consulting, there will be many circumstances when unanticipated problems arise and because of the varied nature of the work, each problem is different. You need to make a call: what is the right solution and what is the right way to achieve that solution? These times call for you to use your own judgment. You should not be scared to make this call but rather feel empowered to make a decision if it provides value for both the parties.
Consulting requires different skill sets for different tasks. Sometimes these skills may not be present within the team and you may need an expert’s advice. Even though expert guidance comes with a cost, one should make sure that no compromises are made to achieve the required insight/direction. Collaboration with an expert on matters will provide higher value and the client will always respect the value that comes in from this. Personally, I have found collaboration with experienced people in projects very productive. The knowledge that they bring on board with their experience in the field is priceless and incorporating them into your solution becomes valuable to the project. They become your sounding board and you can always discuss your ideas freely and get great insights which you and your team alone would not have thought of.
- TEAM WORK
Working as a management consultant in a firm is quite different from working as an independent or freelance consultant. When working in a management consulting firm it is the team that leads the assignment and the whole team that is involved in resolving the client’s problems. In the consulting, there may be times where you need to provide solutions to clients across spectrums which are not completely under your domain. Therefore, it becomes very important to work as a team, hold discussions and brainstorm together to come up with effective solutions. While working on a team, it is important to split the work based on one’s strength and expertise and develop a collaborative way of working. You should respect the contribution of each team member and be focused on accomplishments of the whole team rather than only yours.
- DEBRIEFING AND PLANNING
When you are working in a team and the work is distributed, it becomes very important to discuss and debrief each other on the progress of the project. It is the performance of the team which will lead to successful completion of the project, hence, each individual needs to put in their best effort and ensure that there is a proper synergy of work. Individual planning becomes as important as group planning so that you do not hold the team back. Also debriefing helps the team know about the work being done, insights and findings in your section could help other team members in their work, and also the whole team is made aware of the project status and progress.
- MESSAGING PLATFORMS
Both instant messaging platforms and emails are useful collaboration tools for office communication. Instant messaging these days are taking lead over emails because it facilitates quick information exchange. People often tend to check their emails pretty late. When you communicate through an instant messenger, you can get an immediate response which reduces chances of misunderstandings with quicker back-and-forth of replies. If these interactions result in important discussions, you should make sure that the points of discussion are minuted and sent out as an email later for reference.
- CREATING BACKUPS
Backing up your work is crucial in consulting, which sometimes takes a back seat. We forget, we ignore and we postpone, and then sometimes we happen to lose the information that was gathered with a lot of hard work. Therefore, ensure backups are created for the data as your work is your wealth and you would not want to lose the wealth that you have acquired over the years.
- ENFORCING CONTRACTS
In our part of the world, contracts are merely considered to be a formal document while agreements usually tend to be based on understanding and relationships between the client and the consultant. People often fail to draw an addendum in case of changes in the scope of work. Usually flexibility is indoctrinated and contractual clauses are neglected. This, I believe, is one of the major reason for emergence of conflicts as verbal agreements are made and no record/minuting per se is done. This provides no further legal recourse and leads to a major loss and a bitter experience for both the parties.
In conclusion, I must say that the ability to manage all these dimensions of consulting is the best skill you can have, because the more clients you work with, the more variety you will find in their ideas and expectations. It goes without saying that you develop this skill with experience, but I hope I have pointed you in the right direction.