Consultants: Shysters or Saviours?

This post comes to you from my former English teacher in Belvedere College, Padraic Gilligan.  Padraic was the man who sparked my interest in the English language and was the first person to introduce me to the works of people like George Orwell, J.D. Sallinger, and Arthur Miller among others.  He’s also a dead ringer for Irish rugby coach, Joe Schmidt.   With his business partner Patrick Delaney, Pádraic is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy firm working in the Meetings and Events industry. Previously both Delaney and Gilligan worked for MCI, a global association, communications and event management company. Padraic is married to Rita Smyth and together they have 6 grown up children. He is a passionate supporter of Arsenal Football Club, a performing singer-songwriter, a committed cyclist and an enthusiastic user of social media (@padraicino) 

“Those who can, do …”

Padraic Gilligan
Padraic Gilligan

Throughout Delaney Marketing and Ovation Group years it never occurred to @Supergreybeard -aka Patrick Delaney – or me to hire a consultant. I think we saw consultants as confidence tricksters or shysters, failed entrepreneurs, business versions of the teachers in Shaw’s oft quoted dictum “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”.

During our Ovation Global DMC years in MCI we never brought in consultants either although other MCI leaders sometimes did. With hindsight we now see how we often ended up wandering around in a dense fog of unknowing, reinventing the wheel or enduring unnecessary difficulties for the want of the disinterested perspective brought to business issues by an expert, external viewpoint, aka, a consultant.

Of course, we would say that, you say, as for 2 years now we’ve been earning our crust as consultants. Now we seek to convince business leaders like our former selves to hire us for the value that we’ll bring to them, intoning that the fees they pay us are miniscule by comparison to the return they’ll get from them. Two years into the new role I’m a zealous convert and wish I knew then what I know now about the value of consultants.

Here are 5 reasons you should hire a consultant:

Perspective

Entrepreneurs and business leaders easily get caught in the gnarly weeds of day-to-

Patrick Delaney
Patrick Delaney

day business conundrums and quickly lose sight of where they’re going. I know that happened regularly enough to @Supergreybeard and me – operational issues would snare us and we’d overlook our sales activity, a HR issue would arise and we’d allow it occupy all of our time etc

In situations like this, external consultants bring perspective and keep you focused on your destination. As they are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company, they stay more easily on the bridge and avoid getting dragged down to the lower decks. Their perspective helps confirm to you that your true place is at the wheel. You need to steer the ship and send others down to sort out the below-deck shenanigans. A good consultant will point that out to you and help you see what’s patently in front of you!

 

Decisiveness

Related to perspective is the decisiveness that consultants can bring to business challenges. Because they are not intimately involved in the company and, for the most part, not connected with the plethora of human emotions that often complicate the decision making process, consultants can short-circuit the lengthy gestation periods that often bedevil the business decision making.

Because consultants are constantly on the bridge with their gaze firmly fixed on the horizon, they see things more clearly, with context and perspective. Thus the petty nature of the obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of a good decision are seen for what they are and the decision can be made more easily, with conviction and decisiveness.

Expertise

Consultants need to be recognised experts not only in business processes but in the specifics of the field in which they’re consulting. This is why small boutique consultancies (like SoolNua!) sometimes bring more to the table than large global firms. McKinsey, Bain and Accenture bring extraordinary value to global enterprises around big strategy issues but often lack the expert niche knowledge around the specifics of a particular market segment – like the Meetings Industry, for example.

I’ve read some brilliant strategy documents on global tourism trends produced by the big firms but often there are nuance deficiencies in their knowledge of and expertise in the niches, in business tourism and MICE particularly. Thus when hiring a consultant make sure you get the process and strategy stuff, the brilliant graphs and the clever matrices but be sure, also, to go for expert knowledge of your sector, mindful that this is often more likely to come via a small firm.

Experience

Screen-Shot-2015-09-21-at-20.11.26-300x217When we started in business in the early 90s neither @Supergreybeard nor I had even a fleck of grey hair. The fact that we’re almost uniformly grey now is an outward symbol of our experience, earned over decades by errors, mistakes and screw-ups. We think Oscar Wilde was right on the money when he declared: “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes”.

Consultants bring value because they bring experience, experience often earned the costly way, ie, by making glorious mistakes. When you hire a consultant you’re buying into that experience and saving yourself time and money, not to mention all those blissful, sleepful nights that otherwise might have been spent tossing and turning in anxious misery.

Impartiality

A good consultant will also save you from your own partiality and prejudice. As business leaders we try to be aware of our weaknesses and ensure they are compensated for by the support resources we hire. But besides weaknesses we also have blind spots, ie, weaknesses that we refuse to recognise. Our clarity of vision can easily be marred by prejudicial thinking that’s deep-rooted in us and that’s often presented as entrepreneurial vision and thus no easy to challenge.

A consultant brings impartial gravitas to business debate and dialogue and has the moral authority to challenge the twisted thinking that’s sometimes presented as vision. Because of their experience and wisdom they also have a cultured nose for bullshit and can detect it at 10 paces.

A True Story

A recent client of ours was about to invest significant funds in high quality print collateral targeting the agency community. Our direct and personal experience as recipients of such brochures told us it was wasteful. The money would be better spent on an integrated campaign combining face-to-face, on-line and some innovative social media. It was difficult to convince the Director of Sales that her carefully planned campaign was destined for the trash can, particularly because she was comfortable with the print approach having done it successfully in the past. In the end, after a lot of discussion, dialogue and debate, she went with our viewpoint and, so far, is thrilled with the results.

Pádraic Gilligan (@padraicino) and Patrick Delaney (@Supergreybeard) are Managing Partners at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy offering strategy, marketing and training to venues, hotels and destinations in the MICE sector.

www.soolnua.com

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