You’ve heard the old business joke, right? “A consultant is a person who borrows your watch and tells you the time.”

I’m a consultant myself, and I love that joke. Still, it’s not always true. I think that it’s fine for the consultant to use the client’s watch, if:

  1. using the watch helps the client, and,
  2. the client wasn’t using it.

In fact, my observation – confirmed on many assignments – is that clients just want to know what time it is, but they often don’t realise that they have a watch!

For example, I’ve seen client organizations where:

  • A sales director developed a key account management strategy and presented it a couple of years ago, and is now bemused that top management have brought in some sales consultants to develop an essentially identical plan.
  • Operations people are as skilled as the external lean consultant, but can’t get the boss to listen to their ideas for streamlining a factory process (“You can’t be a prophet in your own land”).
  • Someone in IT knows about a software module in an existing CRM or ERP system that does the very thing the Finance Director is about to buy from a new and different vendor.
  • Frontline people have instituted customer care practices which cost nothing, create huge goodwill, have no ill effects, but violate some policy, and so remains secret, rather than being exploited around the business.

How do you find this stuff?

You need to know what you’re looking for. To do that, you have to move past problem statements and ask yourself, “How do things need to look when they are working the way I want them to?”

Once you know what you’re looking for, you can start noticing it. It takes practice, because it’s not a habit of mind that most people have. And this is where my type of consulting comes into play, helping people to recognise and use what they already have.

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