What Type of Consulting Relationship Is Right for Your Business Goals: OTM Guide - ON THE MARK
5th April 2024

What Type of Consulting Relationship Is Right for Your Business Goals: OTM Guide

Consulting is consulting is consulting, right? Well, not quite. As an organization, you may encounter a business problem and seek to remedy it. The long-held assumption is that a team of consultants are hired who swoop in, fix said problem, and swiftly depart like Batman having seen the Bat-Signal over the skies of Gotham. Absolutely, this could be the right course of action for your business, but not necessarily, and the aim here is to look in a bit more depth at the spectrum of consultant support available and how the three broad types might be used most effectively.

OK, what are the three types of consulting?

Starting with the Batman example above, the first type of consulting discussed here is that of the expert consultant. This consulting offers an organization the benefit of their own consulting experience to clients who don’t have this insight themselves. Typically, the client believes they know what is going on and what is needed to correct it but wants a specialist to resolve the perceived problem, putting this responsibility into the hands of a third party.

Next is the doctor-patient consultant, so called because this role sees the consultant both identifying – or diagnosing – the issues within the organization and fixing these. These clients know something is wrong but are uncertain what and require this to be identified and remedied, again with the responsibility sitting firmly in the hands of the third party.

Lastly, we turn to the process consultant. Instead of investigating already-known problems or diagnosing issues, this role empowers the organization to understand and realize what can be improved. This is typically done by facilitating the business in a collaborative way to gain insight using the internal knowledge of those who work within it. In this instance, the organization is the expert in their business and not a third party, with the process consultant acting as a guide to help elicit this information.

Gotcha. So, which is best?

Each type of consulting has its benefits and restrictions. The doctor-patient and expert models will be most effective in circumstances where an organization knows the problem and/or solution. In these instances, the consultant will act as the expert in fixing or as the doctor in diagnosing and treating. These approaches are appealing in terms of rectifying issues but what happens after the consultant has left the organization to their own devices? In these first two types, the consultant’s own thoughts, values, and design preferences will be very visible and are typically standardized rather than tailored to the specific organization.

This leaves us with process consulting – the model that is best used in situations where an organization is unsure of both the problem and the solution. This type of consulting is rooted in social learning, the key here being that while the consultant can support and guide the client, it is the client themselves who holds the business-specific knowledge and experience of the pain points and situational context. This empowers the organization to continue to better understand and solve its problems long after the consultant has made like Elvis and left the building.

Process consulting sounds great, what’s the catch?

It’s not a catch so much as a caveat. The process consulting approach requires the organization to remain responsible for the design, from the bottom all the way to the top, to understand the activities, roles, jobs, structures, mechanisms, and rewards across the whole operating model. It simply cannot be an exercise in passing this accountability to a third party. The consultant in this instance can provide guidance and examples from other organizations and their own experience to illustrate potential options, but the ultimate decision is in the hands of the business.

This means learning to identify issues and find solutions to drive change, as opposed to giving this privilege to another, less informed party. It is only through developing the awareness of holistic business operation that meaningful, informed, robust, and business-led solutions can be adopted. The collaborative approach uses both bottom-up and top-down inputs across a diagonal slice of the organization capturing both strategic and operational elements at all levels which helps to embed the redesign into the organization. Like coaching, the process consulting model believes that the client holds the answers within themselves and simply enables this to be realized.

Leaving the Batcave

As you can see there are various modes of consulting, and some will work better at specific points than others.

Could an expert be able to make like Batman and pitch up with a pre-written ‘fix’ for your problem? Yes.

Would your doctor bring a thermometer and some anti-inflammatories to ‘cure’ your issues? You betcha.

Would either leave your organization with an empowered workforce able to continue working through difficult times in their absence? Not a chance. Only a process consultant can do that.

About the author

Joh Foster is an Operating Model Consultant with 10 years’ experience of working in transformation, process development and implementation, continuous improvement, and HR. An organizational psychologist by trade, Joh’s greatest passion is making work, work better and working collaboratively to achieve meaningful and real results.

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