The biblical imperative “Physician, heal thyself!” can aptly be applied to management consultants. Indeed, the consulting process used in most traditional management consulting assignments would not withstand the scrutiny of a first-year consulting associate. While, it should be stressed, traditional consulting approaches are appropriate under some circumstances, many clients would benefit from alternative consulting approaches.
Berkshire Advisors is working to reinvent management consulting for local governments. In an attempt to “heal ourselves” we have applied the same analytic rigor to the management consulting process that we use when serving our clients. The goal of this effort has been to provide more focused and effective management consulting services that address client needs at less cost. The reinvented consulting approaches have a number of important features.
Reinvented consulting processes provide greater value for clients in a number of ways. First, these consulting approaches make greater use of standard processes which have been re-engineered to reduce costs. Second, the reinvented consulting approaches allow the client to determine the level of consulting assistance required and to make more use of in-house staff to perform some project related activities. Third, travel costs are reduced by making more use of teleconferencing capabilities. (Clients only pay for consultants to be on-site when being on-site creates value for the client.)
Depending on client needs projects can be structured to increase the opportunity for knowledge transfer to client staff. For example, a range of approaches may be used to perform selected tasks:
Which approach make sense for an individual client will depend on the availability of resources to support the consulting effort and the extent to which the client wants to develop the capability to perform analyses in-house.
The reinvented consulting approach recognizes that many clients face common challenges. Providing proven solutions to addressing these challenges is less costly that addressing these issues as part of a broader management study because the consulting processes used to support "solutions" have been streamlined. In addition, because solutions are provided on a modular basis clients do not pay for service they do not value. Solutions may also be more effective than “build from scratch” approaches because proven solutions – which have been developed based on work for scores of clients – address issues or challenges that the client with more limited experience may not have anticipated.
On most traditional management consulting engagements, a high percentage of opportunities for improvement (80 percent) are identified during the first several days of interviewing. This initial reconnaissance consumes a relative small percentage of the engagement budget (20 percent). The preponderance of remaining study resources are not devoted to identifying additional improvement ideas but on confirming (or disproving) hypotheses developed during the initial reconnaissance and refining related recommendations. A quick strike diagnostic assessment focuses on quickly and cost-effectively identifying major opportunities for improvement. The client can then determine what follow-up, if any, is necessary.
A range of analytic tools such as GIS mapping, queuing analysis, linear programming, and conjoint analysis are incorporated into traditional Berkshire Advisors management consulting engagements. Likewise, our reviews include detailed analyses of scheduling and the staffing needed to account for employee absences and vacancies. By providing "on demand" analytic services Berkshire Advisors provides access to these analytic approaches for clients who do not want to undertake a broader study and for whom it is not cost-effective to perform these analyses in-house.
While management consultants pride themselves on the quality of their recommendations and the insights implicit in them, in reality often the greatest value consultants provide is the identification of a problem that previously had been overlooked or misunderstood. Once there is agreement that a problem exists there are, as the proverb goes, “numerous ways to skin the cat.” Berkshire Advisors situational assessments recognize this fact and focus consulting resources on providing managers with a detailed understanding of the current situation for a variety of important issues – ranging from structuring compensation plans, to improving the performance of first line supervisors, to calculating the resources a police department has to support proactive initiatives. Local government managers can then use this information to improve the performance of critical functions and to inform important decisions.
While traditional management consulting assignments typically include the development of implementation plans, these plans typically do not detail how to develop the systems and processes needed to institutionalize effective management practices. Indeed, the development of this type of “management infrastructure” is best done in collaboration with clients and is not well suited for a traditional management consulting engagement. To address this shortcoming Berkshire Advisors works with local governments to develop the management infrastructure needed to institutionalize change. These services include both the development of the management infrastructure needed to address a specific need (for example, managing crime reduction or community policing initiatives) and working with local governments to use selected tools (for example, employee surveys or performance management and measurement systems) to support ongoing improvement efforts.
Many of the innovative ideas identified during a traditional management study may not be implemented even if a detailed implementation plan describing each step in the implementation process is provided. One of the primary reasons for this is that local government managers who focus the preponderance of their time on day-to-day management – making sure the trains keep running on time, if you will – quite simply don’t have time to support change initiatives. Their “spirit is willing” but their time is limited. To address this issue, Berkshire Advisors provides clients with the support needed to implement innovative management ideas.