Today consultants are brought in to help in almost every situation, from businesses struggling to those growing too fast to know what to do. In every circumstance, consulting experts bring in an outsider’s perspective and years of experience. They help companies get leaner, grow larger and find new and innovative ways to do what they do best as efficiently as possible.
For Michael Melenberg, an associate at WMC, the critical points in Edmonton’s changing economy is the precise time when companies should be reaching out to consultants.
“When the economic downturn came, many businesses cut their external spending and focused inwards, and this included cutting out consulting,” he says, “but this is one of those precise moments when management consultants help. We are experts in efficiency and ways to save time and money. For the businesses that did come to us, we figured out ways to weather the storm and manage their business through those tough times.”
Consulting helps during times of prosperity as well as challenging times.
“Doubling the work doesn’t have to mean doubling the labour force,” says David Hall, Prosolve Consulting’s founder and president. “We help companies change the way that they’re doing things so they can gain these advantages and eliminate waste, making them a lot more productive.”
Hall points to a recent client that approached ProSolve for consulting. The company, according to Hall, was roughly 300 employees making three products a day for $150,000 in sales. After ProSolve’s consulting, they were up to five products a day. That jump alone justified the cost. “If you can increase your income by $100,000 a day,” he says, “it doesn’t take long to pay off the consulting.”
While many companies in Edmonton use management consulting firms for efficiency help and a valuable outside perspective, there are many local consultants that specialize in the public sector.
According to Melenberg, “It’s not just directly consulting with governments, but with companies and governments and between governments. There are situations like Amazon coming to town and, in the case of municipalities, working together to share resources. Consultants help figure out these relationships for better effectiveness and efficiency.”
A type of consulting that is often misunderstood is government relations or, one of its facets, lobbying. For Elan MacDonald senior vice president, national business development with Global Public Affairs, part of the job is breaking down the stigma of lobbying, especially for businesses that can benefit from working with the government.
“All orders of government recognize [lobbying] as an imperative part of developing sound public policy and good government,” says MacDonald. “Governments make better decisions when they are informed by stakeholders that are the experts closest to the issues and the people impacted.”
Government relations for many enterprises are becoming increasingly important, especially as policies and regulations impact the ways they do business. For MacDonald, and indeed the entire consulting industry, their services are becoming a vital part of running a company.
“More and more we’re finding the demand for our services is growing,” MacDonald says. “The importance of a fully-integrated public affairs offering that emphasizes government relations, strategic communications and stakeholder engagement programs, all managed in tandem, is increasingly critical to organizations in any industry segment.”
While the reasons for using consultants varies, there remain some constants in how businesses can get the most out of their relationships.
“At the start of a relationship with a consultant, two things are imperative,” explains MacDonald. “First, clients should define the help they think they need and most importantly, the desired outcome, and articulate that to prospective consultants. Second, clients should discuss expectations early, ask many questions and set a deadline for the consultant to provide them with an initial proposal that scopes out the work, timelines, costs and evaluation measures.”
Melenberg agrees, “Coming with some sort of idea helps and you have to have a clear idea of your needs,” he says. “At WMC we really believe in a collaborative approach. That means open and honest communication and clear expectations of what can be accomplished inside of their budget.”
Hall also cites clear and open communication as a key to success, especially with the employees most affected by the proposed changes. Since consulting inevitably leads to change, it’s important that employees understand that change. Likewise, leadership must understand that underperforming workers may not be an employee problem, but a problem with the system.
“I don’t like when people are blamed for poor work when it is the system that is causing poor performance,” says Hall. “We’re asking people to change the way they perform, think, do their work and more. It takes a lot of communication to show what it means for them and their job and life. The key is being open, patient and understanding.”
While many other industries are looking over their shoulders for the next great disruptor, those in the consulting world are expecting more business.
“We are in the business of change and guiding people through that change,” says Hall. “People will be the most critical factor in anticipating or responding to change. Our services will only be more necessary in the future even if they change to meet the demands of new technologies.”
For MacDonald, technology will play a role in the future of consulting but not in taking it over. As technology continues to connect us, consulting will play a bigger role. “I don’t anticipate a computer taking my job just yet,” she says. “I do see a growing need for our services as a result of technology, however – specifically in our practice area of crisis and reputation management.”
As companies learn to outsource more effectively and become leaner and more focused operations, consultants can help them figure out their best plans moving forward. Since management consulting began in the late 1800s, it has evolved to help not just struggling enterprises, but to help growing ones and public entities learn how to best share and manage their resources. Looking to the future, these consultants may be the key to helping companies learn to stay efficient while keeping their invaluable human resources happy and productive. Change, after all, can be a very good thing.