Opinion: It’s time for a new client-consultant relationship

Anyone working in a business consultancy firm – whether that’s HR, L&D or project management – knows the market is highly competitive, and it’s a constant battle to win and hang on to new clients. But how many consultants actually analyse what their customers want from them, and change their business models accordingly?

I recently worked with Kenzie Group, a small dispute resolution and project services consultancy company, to better understand its clients’ wants and needs. Kenzie’s MD, Joe Bond, told me: “Construction and engineering consultants have the dubious reputation of being ‘body shops’ – they will throw any available person at a job regardless of experience or expertise. I want to change that: it’s not good for anyone, particularly the consultant, who can be the victim of poor management decisions by client and consultancy firm alike.”

I surveyed 10 major construction and engineering firms, and they told me that the three things they most value in a consultant are: transparency throughout a project, honesty and confidence that the consultant will do the job well. I’d bet good money that those things are the traits any HR or L&D consultant’s client values, too.

But the service these businesses are getting from their consultants sadly falls far from the mark. ‘We don’t feel like we matter to them,’ ‘we aren’t kept up to date’, ‘the consultant lacks knowledge and experience’ and ‘we feel like the process is spun out unnecessarily’ are common complaints. When picking a consultant, price is much less of a determining factor than the confidence that the job will be done well.

One of the clients’ biggest bugbears is poor project kick-off meetings. While both parties are, of course, responsible for the success of this meeting, it was commonly reported that consultants were arrogant, didn’t listen to clients’ concerns and rushed headlong in. The issue for me here is why the client accepts this: they are part of the problem and so need to be part of the solution.

Clearly there is a big divide that needs to be breached. Having spent time on both sides of it, I feel it will take a brave person to step forward and start to repair the relationship. But it needs to be done, and it will take steps from both sides – consultants and clients – to improve the working relationship.

To slow down the front-end process, put in place a more structured approach. Ensuring that the consultants have the right skills and right cultural fit may seem like an easy task for consultancy firms, but will be difficult to make it a reality in a sector that’s largely staffed by freelance contractors.

I want to see HR and L&D leading the way in upping the professionalism of the consultancy sector. Our clients trust us, and we rely on their word of mouth recommendations for our livelihoods. Ultimately, if we don’t change the way we’re working – and soon – we risk eroding our reputation, and doing ourselves out of business.

Story via – http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/05/09/opinion-it-s-time-for-a-new-client-consultant-relationship.aspx

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest news and updates

Sign up now