CTRM & Commodity Value Chain Consulting Organising Purposes: Facilitating Client Learning & Organisational Effectiveness

7. Facilitating Client Learning

Management consultants should all want to leave behind something of lasting value. This means not only enhancing clients’ ability to deal with immediate issues but also helping them learn methods needed to cope with future challenges. 

Consultants facilitate learning by including members of the organisation in the assignment’s processes. 

For example, demonstrating an appropriate technique or recommending a relevant book often accomplishes more than quietly performing a needed analysis. When the task requires a method outside the professional’s area of expertise, they may also recommend other consultants or educational programs. However, some members of management may need to acquire complex skills that they can learn only through guided experience over time.

With strong client involvement in the entire process, there will be many opportunities to help identify the right learning needs. Often a consultant can suggest or help design opportunities for learning about work-planning methods, task force assignments, goal-setting processes, and so on. Effective consultants may be concerned with executive learning throughout an engagement, it may however be wise not to cite this as an explicit goal. Leaders may not like the idea of being “taught to manage.” Too much talk about client learning comes across as presumptuous—and it is. Make sure there are solid facts and examples to back up your recommendations.

Learning during projects is a two-way street. In every engagement, consultants should learn how to be more effective in designing and conducting projects. In the best relationships, each party explores the experience with the other in order to learn more from it.

8. Organisational Effectiveness

Sometimes successful implementation requires not only new management concepts and techniques but also different attitudes regarding management functions and prerogatives or even changes in how the basic purpose of the organisation is defined and carried out. The term organisational effectiveness is used to imply the ability to adapt future strategy and behaviour to environmental change and to optimise the contribution of the organisation’s human resources.

Consultants who include this purpose in their practice contribute to top management’s most important task—maintaining the organisation’s future viability in a changing world. This may seem too vast a goal for many engagements. But just as a trader who tries to improve the position of one trade and how it may contribute to the health of the whole portfolio, the professional consultant is concerned with the company as a whole even when the immediate assignment is limited.

Many projects produce change in one aspect of an organisation’s functioning that does not last or that proves counterproductive because it doesn’t mesh with other aspects of the system. 

If lower-level employees in one department assume new responsibilities, friction may result in another department. Or a new marketing strategy that makes great sense because of changes in the environment might flounder because of its unforeseen impact on production and scheduling. Because such repercussions are likely, clients should recognise that unless recommendations take into account the entire picture, they may be impossible to implement or may create future difficulties elsewhere in the company.

Promoting overall effectiveness is part of each step. While listening to a client’s concerns about one department, the consultant should relate them to what’s happening elsewhere. While working on current issues, they should also think about future needs. When absorbing managers’ explanations of why progress is difficult, the consultant should consider other possible barriers as well. In these ways, the professional contributes to overall effectiveness by addressing immediate issues with sensitivity to their larger contexts. And clients should not automatically assume that consultants who raise broader questions are only trying to snare more work for themselves. To look at how the client’s immediate concern fits into the whole picture is, after all, the professional’s responsibility.

Important change in the utilisation of human resources seldom happens just because an adviser recommends it. Professionals can have more influence through the methods they demonstrate in conducting the consulting process itself. 

For example, if consultants believe that parts of an organisation need to communicate better, they can consistently solicit others’ thoughts on what’s being discussed or suggest project task forces of people from different levels or departments. When a manager discovers that an adviser’s secret weapon in solving some problem was not sophisticated analysis but simply (and skillfully) asking the people most closely involved for their suggestions, the manager learns the value of better upward communication. 

The best professionals encourage clients to improve organisational effectiveness not by writing reports or recommending books on the subject but by modeling methods of motivation that work well.

Consultants are not crusaders bent on reforming management styles and assumptions. But a professional diagnosis should include an assessment of overall organisational effectiveness, and the consulting process should help lower whatever barriers to improvement are discovered. Good advisers are practitioners, not preachers, but their practices are consistent with their beliefs. When the consulting process stimulates experiments with more effective ways of managing, it can make its most valuable contribution to management practice.

More Emphasis on Process

Increasing consensus, commitment, learning, and future effectiveness are not proposed as substitutes for the more customary purposes of management consulting but as desirable outcomes of any really effective consulting process. The extent to which they can be built into methods of achieving more traditional goals depends on the understanding and skill with which the whole consulting relationship is managed. Behavioural objectives can best be achieved when integrated with more traditional approaches. And clients have a right to expect that all management consultants, whatever their speciality, are sensitive to human relationships and processes and skilled in improving the organisation’s ability to solve future as well as present problems.

The idea that consulting success depends solely on analytic expertise and on an ability to present convincing reports has lost ground, partly because there are now more people within organisations with the required analytic techniques. Increasingly, the best management consultants define their objective as not just recommending solutions but also helping institutionalise more effective management processes.

This trend is significant to consulting firms because it requires process skills that need more emphasis in firms’ recruitment and staff development policies. It is equally significant to managers who need not just expert advice but also practical help in improving the organisation’s future performance.

As leaders understand the broader range of purposes that excellent consulting can help achieve, they will select consultants more wisely and expect more value from them. And as clients learn how to express new needs, good consultants learn how to address them.

How can we help?

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About the Author

Jason Novobranec is Implementary’s Chief Operating Officer.

With over 20 years of Consulting, Program Management & Senior Leadership experience, Jason has delivered initiatives for large multi-national / multi-regional organisations as well as SME’s and is an expert in shaping solutions to fit a customer’s project needs.