Putting the trust back into consultancy

The sharpest drop in spending on consultants was in local government which fell by 35 per cent. However, there was an 11 per cent spending cut on consultants in central government and also in other areas such as defence, which reduced spending by 11 per cent.
The NHS, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies did so by 13 per cent. During the recent intense period of government spending cuts there was a significant amount of negative press and criticism levied at consultants in the sector for being ‘over used and over paid’.
Yet today, with the unprecedented amount of change and transformation needed in the public sector, arguably it is experienced consultants with commercial knowledge who are able to lead and implement the change.
However, the tough economic climate has meant that procurement in the sector has changed significantly. Those responsible for hiring consultants are under even tighter scrutiny and will not only have to justify their recruitment choices, but demonstrate the value consultants will add and show a clear return on investment. But how can public sector organisations ensure they recruit the more talented consultants without it costing eye watering fees? How can they hire credible consultants who will deliver on their promises?
Buyer beware – get some guidelines
There are some key considerations when hiring consultants that can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful project.
The Institute of Consulting (IC) has developed a guide to buying consultancy services, checklists for hiring good consultants, as well as best practice behaviours that organisations should expect from the consultants they engage. The documents are a good starting point for any business looking to procure consultancy services. We can’t stress enough that an organisation’s due diligence needs to be thorough when hiring a consultant – planning needs to be akin to a military operation. Part of this process should involve examining the business case and questioning whether the organisation really needs a consultant at all - as well as obviously double checking that the resource doesn’t exist within another department already.
The next tip is to scope out project requirements and resourcing implications in detail, including how the project and consultant will be managed, the anticipated costs and timelines. A successful consultancy project is one that is supported by all the key stakeholders, so getting their support from the start is essential. It will also ensure the consultant is working to a clear and tightly defined brief which is aligned to the key objectives from day one.
Shop around
Price is obviously an important factor and we advice all our clients to shop around. Talk to several different consultants to get quotes, tenders or even formal proposals. In doing so, they will have a better understanding of the market, greater insight into what the services should cost and the benefits they can expect. Our message is very clear, consultants must not be appointed on a whim.
Organisations must beware of not being lulled into the false sense of security of basing their recruitment decisions based on well known firms – there is a danger here that they could be paying mainly for the big brand name - bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.
According to analysts IDC, there are four key qualities of a ‘good’ consultant – integrity, an analytical mind, clarity of expression and empathy. We support this view and expect our consultants to be ambassadors of professionalism and show a commitment to raising consultancy standards.
Professional standards
To ensure professional standards, we have established a ‘Code of Conduct’ which all of our 5500 consultants have to sign in order to become an Institute member. In signing up to the Code, the consultants are committing to promoting standards of excellence and professionalism at all times, to put their client’s interests first and to improve their own professional development continually. Employing a consultant who abides through membership of the Institute of Consulting with the Code of Conduct reduces the risk of employing a consultant. If there are any concerns about the professionalism of the consultant, the client can refer to the professional body.
The point about the importance of a consultant’s professional development is very important. A sign of a good consultant is their commitment to professional development and willingness to improve their knowledge continually to ensure they give their clients informed and up to date strategic advice and best practices.
Training and accreditation denote standards for this reason, we offer our consultants the opportunity to undertake our intense training programmes (including courses on procuring consultancy) and work towards gaining CMC certification, which is a globally recognised kite mark for professionalism in consulting and we would advise anyone looking to hire a consultant to look for this. To make it easier for client organisations to be confident they are hiring certified professional consultants we are shortly launching a national register of consultants. In order for public sector organisations to put their faith in consultants again, they need to hire the right ones.
Providing they follow the right procurement processes and make sure the consultants they hire are certified, qualified and have the experience to match they won’t go far wrong.
Further information
The Institute of Consulting is working hard to raise standards of professionalism in consulting and have developed a guide to buying consultancy services and best practice behaviours that organisations should expect from consultants. They can be found at www.iconsulting.org.uk

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