Often, when I explain what I do for a living being a management consultant, I get asked why companies hire consultants in the first place.
As much as I hate to hear it, the question makes sense: At first glance, it can be puzzling why companies wouldn’t just solve their own problems—whether it be a cost reduction effort or a new market entry—well, themselves. But there are many reasons companies really need consultants (and why I am able to stay employed working on some of the coolest challenges in the business world!).
If you’ve ever considered becoming a consultant—or hiring one—read a little more below about how we can help companies out.
They Want an Outside Eye
You know how sometimes when you’re dealing with an issue in your life, you turn to friends and family for their opinions? Companies often need this, too, especially when making tough decisions. Often times, clients have a perspective on how to solve the problem they are facing but want to make sure that what they’re thinking is correct (or that they aren’t so close to the challenge that they’re missing the obvious answer). So, they turn to consultants to come in and provide their opinion.
But this isn’t just any opinion: Because consultants often work with many different companies and may have worked through this problem in the past with someone else, they can really provide a perspective based on what they’ve seen work (or not) before. And given this experience, they can often bring new and innovative ideas or possible challenges to the table that clients probably wouldn’t have been able to see on their own.
They Need Extra Horsepower
Sometimes the problems companies need solving are really important, but they don’t necessarily have the manpower to focus on them. Companies still have to focus on their day-to-day operations, after all, and new projects typically require reprioritizing employees’ core job responsibilities. But hiring new employees to fill these gaps doesn’t always make sense either, seeing as many of these projects are one-offs. Whether it’s a cost reduction program requiring a dedicated team of six for a year or even a post-merger integration that requires a team of 100 for a month, clients might struggle to get the teams in place to do this critical work.
In instances like this, consultants basically serve as temporary, highly skilled employees. We’re not full-time employees of the company, so it is often cheaper to use us than hire someone new. Because we switch around companies often, we’re used to the fast learning curve, and onboarding us is easier. And, by using consultants, companies don’t have to pull their employees away from their actual jobs.
They Want Specialized Skills
Another, and perhaps the most common, reason that companies hire consultants is to gain access to a specialized skill set that might not exist in house. By engaging a consulting firm, you get access to a group of professionals that has skills ranging from Lean Six Sigma process design to finance organization structures. These highly specialized people would not only be expensive to hire for, but the company might not have enough work to keep said employees busy year round. But, thanks to consultants, companies can bring in that skill set on demand when they need it.
They Want a Safe Zone
Sometimes, when companies are working on a challenging problem or a controversial project, it can be hard for them to make decisions or take the necessary actions without getting wrapped up in emotions or politics. So, they bring in consultants to provide an unbiased eye and do some of the dirty work for them.
If you remember Up in the Air, George Clooney was engaged to go around the country conducting employment terminations on behalf of his clients. Likewise, clients might engage us for major restructurings or controversial projects so that they can ensure they’re handled by an external party that’s both experienced in and a bit removed from these types of activities. We can also provide the back-up and confirmation for a client that is attempting to run with a new idea that might not be well-received within an organization, without any risk to our day jobs or career.
As you can see, consultants really support companies in a lot of ways—and as a consultant you get to dig into a lot of tough situations. It’s not easy work, but for problem-solvers like me, it’s exciting work. If it sounds up your alley, learn a little more about how to get a consulting job of your own!
Photo of office building courtesy of Shutterstock.