Australia, Companies, Consulting, Features, Logistics, Supply Chain

Getting the most out of consultants

Consultants bring a broad perspective, gained from extensive exposure to diverse business environments. Images: Prological.

Understanding how to effectively leverage consultancy expertise is crucial for enhancing operational efficiency and innovation in supply chain management, explains Peter Jones, Managing Director of Prological.

The value of consulting services in supply chain management is often questioned – or at least misunderstood, says Peter Jones, Managing Director of Prological. According to Peter the key to truly benefiting from consultants begins with acknowledging their potential to enrich your business processes and decision-making strategies.

A while back, Peter relates, he visited a motor mechanic with the following sign on the counter: ‘Standard fee: $100 per hour; If the customer wishes to watch: $150 per hour; If the customer wishes to help: $200 per hour’. The joke implies a truth – that oftentimes experts are hamstrung by clients unwilling to trust the fact that they have expertise that the client doesn’t.

“The first element of getting the most out of your supply chain consulting firm is to acknowledge that they know what will be valuable and beneficial to your endeavours,” Peter explains. “They can help you improve your business, your responsibilities, your customer experience, whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve.”

Consultants bring a broad perspective, gained from extensive exposure to diverse business environments, which can be invaluable. Peter emphasises that this exposure allows consultants to “build a knowledge bank that comes from the vast array of places where we’ve worked previously.” This cross-pollination of ideas from various industries fuels creativity and innovative solutions, which are crucial in a dynamic field like supply chain management.

However, the integration of a consulting firm into a business does not come without its challenges, particularly from mid-level management who may feel threatened by external experts. Peter notes that resistance from middle management is common as they may feel their roles are being questioned. He suggests that the key to overcoming this resistance is to form a collaborative relationship where consultants and internal teams work together as a unified force. “We need those people in order to be successful … the external information is not worth anything unless we can assimilate that with the environment in which we’re working with our clients,” Peter says.

He stresses that a successful consultancy process involves a delicate balance of humility, empathy, and curiosity. “We approach every project with the understanding that what was once the right solution may no longer be suitable due to changes in the business environment,” Peter remarks. This perspective helps in fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and openness, essential for effective collaboration.

The benefits of this approach are clear, yet misconceptions still exist, particularly around the cost and value of consultancy. Peter discusses the misconception that consultancy is disproportionately expensive compared to the value delivered. “I think the single biggest thing is that consultancy has a perception of being expensive. And then not delivering the value that that expense suggested would be delivered,” he says.

This perception can be mitigated by setting clear expectations from the outset of the consultancy relationship and ensuring that the scope of work is well defined.

Peter Jones, Managing Director of Prological, advises businesses understand the scope and timeline of the consulting process. Image: Prological.
Peter Jones, Managing Director of Prological, advises businesses understand the scope and timeline of the consulting process. Image: Prological.

Moreover, Peter highlights the importance of engagement from the client side to truly harness the benefits of consulting: “The best outcomes are achieved when clients are as invested in the consulting process as we are. This means not just being open to new ideas but also actively participating in the shaping of strategies and solutions.” This proactive involvement helps to align the consultant’s expertise with the client’s specific needs and expectations, leading to more tailored and effective solutions.

Peter also points out common pitfalls in consultancy engagements, particularly when consultants are perceived as overstepping or when their advice is not practically applicable. “Sometimes, there’s a mismatch between theoretical advice and practical applicability, which can lead to frustration on both sides,” he notes. To avoid this, Peter advocates for a deep dive into the operational realities of the business by the consultants to ensure that their recommendations are feasible and grounded in the business’s actual working conditions.

In terms of setting realistic expectations, Peter advises businesses to understand the scope and timeline of the consulting process. “Clients should expect a thorough examination of their processes, which can take time, and not just quick fixes,” he says. This thorough approach ensures that solutions are not just superficial but are sustainable improvements that address the root causes of issues.

Reflecting on the role of consultants, Peter underscores their value as catalysts for change. “Our job is to bring a fresh perspective, challenge existing norms, and facilitate transformation. It’s about making the possible actual,” he elaborates. Through this lens, consultancy is not just about providing answers but also about empowering businesses to evolve and adapt in an ever-changing market landscape.

To maximise the return on investment in consultancy, Peter concludes that businesses should seek consultants who not only have the right expertise but are also willing to integrate deeply with the client team to truly understand and address the unique challenges faced. “Choose a consulting partner that values teamwork, dives deep into your operational context, and is committed to your success as much as their own,” he advises.

By embracing these principles, businesses can ensure they derive maximum benefit from their consultancy investments, leading to improved efficiencies, innovation, and competitive advantage. With the right approach, the consultancy-client relationship can transform from a service transaction to a partnership that drives sustainable growth and success.

For more information on Prological, click here.

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