Determining a successful outcome
This report reflects on the question of the most important factors in determining a successful outcome to a consultancy assignment. Following a brief introduction, which details some of the reasons consultants are used and points out the difficulties in trying to establish what ‘success’ means in a consultancy assignment, a number of factors are considered. It is suggested that these factors, where present, make a successful consultancy assignment more likely: integrity; client involvement, motivation and readiness; agreement; consultant competence and client/consultant fit.
The report provides a conclusion that where these factors are present in a consulting assignment the chances of success are likely to be significantly improved. 1. Introduction There are many reasons that an organisation may seek to use a consultant but among the more popular arguments for their use are they; ‘(a) can be objective, independent, and trustworthy, (b) probably possess the needed experience, expertise and analytical skill, and (c) should have the time to take on projects that organizational members do not have.
’ (Armenakis and Burdg, 1988; pp. 340). In general this report relies on the work related to consultancy success factors done by McLachlin (1999), Appelbaum (2004) and Schaffer (2002). As well as some success factors Schafer
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While acknowledging the importance of avoiding these flaws this report will concentrate on the factors required to be present to increase the likelihood of success rather than the flaws to be avoided to mitigate the possibility of failure. The research of all three of the above is constrained by methodological issues. There are small sample sizes (particularly so with McLachlin) that reflect the subjective views of a variety of consultants, clients and employees. Very little in the way of ‘hard’ success measures have been used to analysis the contributions’ made to the organisations’ by the various consultants used.
As a result much of the basis for the establishment of factors resulting in success is anecdotal and therefore needs to be viewed with a critical eye. 1. Important Factors in a successful consultancy assignment 1. The integrity of the consultant ‘Integrity … includes a refusal to undertake certain actions, such as misrepresenting capabilities, claiming to be able to help in situations where help is unlikely, accepting business when there is not a good fit,’ (McLachlin, 1999; pp. 397).
While this may be a generally accepted view of consultant integrity McLachlin also goes on to suggest that at the root of integrity lies the concept of putting the client’s needs first. Further suggesting that a consultation assignment can have ‘little chance of success unless the consultant has a genuine desire to help and serve the interests of the client. ’ (ibid). This does however leave the opportunity for some confusion as to the appropriate behaviour in a situation where the client is unsure of their own needs and requires the consultant to act as guide and expert resource.
While acting with integrity is an essential factor in the likelihood of achieving success in an assignment, the consultant also needs to be aware of what they define as such behaviour may allow for some degree of flexibility given the particular situation. 1. Client involvement, motivation and readiness for change Client involvement is an essential factor of a successful assignment. Without it the consultant can be viewed as acting on their own behalf, and while they may be implementing the client’s wishes it is highly unlikely the general organisation will buy-in or that client is learning to help themselves without full involvement.
Both of which as aims can be seen as leading to a successful assignment. McLachlin states, ‘If a client is not actively involved and ready to change, a consulting engagement is very unlikely to be successful. ’ (1999: pp. 398) and Schein observes, “If we allow clients to distance themselves, we have already lost the war, because it is, after all, the client’s problem we are dealing with. ” (1999: pp. 42). Schaffer (2002) proposes that a crucial success factor in an assignment is linked to client motivation.
The suggesting being made that projects undertaken where the client evidences a clear motivation to carry out the work are far more likely to succeed than otherwise. This is most likely to be true as it also links into other success factors such as ownership and responsibility. This is even more likely to be a key factor where the client is a senior member of staff. A senior manager with a clear motivation to endorse and sponsor a consultant’s assignment gives that assignment an impetus which can drive it to success.
Linked closely, but a little different, is the notion of client readiness as a factor vital to the success of the assignment. ‘Readiness refers to client involvement in the sense of an attitude about the need for change and the degree to which it will receive support and enthusiasm,’ (Armenakis and Burdg, 1988; pp. 351). Here the sense of readiness relates to the position the client finds themselves in terms of willingness to take action now rather than at some piont in the future. So while there may be motivation to act, the readiness aspects inicates a motivation to act now.
1. Clarity between client and consultant There are a number of different aspects to the notion of clarity and all are crucial to the success of the assignment. At the core is the need for the client to be clear why they require the services of a consultant. Have they a clear idea what value they expect the consultant to bring to the situation they face? Often clients spend too little time on the decision to bring the consultant in concentrating instead on what to do with the consultant once they have them.
The clarity of assignment is of course also a vital factor and Shenson suggests that, ‘the most significant reason for dissatisfaction with the results of a consultation is the client’s imprecision … in evaluating the need for and the suitability of a potential consultant. ’ (1990: pp. 38). Therefore in order to achieve success it is crucial for the consultant to ensure that any assumptions and expectations held by the client are made clear and agreement reached on what it is possible to deliver.
‘A clear agreement … helps the client by forcing some clear thinking about promises and expectations and it helps the consultant to lower unrealistically high client expectations so that service quality is positive’ (McLachlin, 1999: pp. 397). Schaffer (2002) suggests this is best achieved by ‘beginning with the results’, which can help the client and consultant to align their thinking towards some defined objectives at the start of the assignment. This is a similar concept to that expressed by Covey (1989), where he suggests highly-effective people, begin with the end in mind.