Not all consultants use the same approach to serve a client’s needs. Consultants will typically take one of two basic approaches when they work with clients:
Consultants as Experts – Many think of consultants as experts. A medical doctor is an “expert” – you explain your symptoms to a doctor, who in turn asks you a few important questions and then tells you what you need to do to get better. This situation is not too different in a business context. The obvious advantage of hiring an expert is that they have knowledge that is not available within the client organization. One potential problem with hiring an expert is that the expert may not fully appreciate the nature of the client’s business and may recommend actions that cannot or do not address the problem the consultant was hired to solve. Alternately, a client may end up with some wonderful recommendations but be unable to implement any of them because of the unique politics or culture of the company.
Consultants as Facilitators – under this approach the consulant simply assists the client in going through the steps necessary to solve a problem. The consultant “oversees” the project while staff of the client does most of the work. The consultant does not implement changes, take actions, and does not tell the client what solution is best under the circumstances. Instead, the consultant assists the client in defining the problem, analyzing the situation, evaluating possible solutions, and deciding on the best solution and the best way to implement the option choosen. One problem using this approach is that the client group may not be capable of making tough decisions. Many times, the aim is to accomodate all the participant’s view-points and to keep peace in the company. As a consequence, although a consensus may be achieved, it may be at the cost of making the best decision.
Sometimes we get a call into our office, a referral, seeking our services as a consultant. Almost immediately the question is posed: “How much do you charge”? The biggest mistake we have made is to give out a pricing range, without first interviewing the potential client to determine expectations, needs and outcomes. Every consulting job is different and unique.