The Barefoot Group

Let‘s Fix Consulting Posts
Dedicated to increasing the value consultants deliver
Industry Leader Interview Series – Pat Habner
February 19, 2014 · by James Carolin | Comments to this post

Pat Habner - Experienced Independent Consultant

JC: What is your definition of a consultant?

PH:  I believe a consultant is either a specialist in a subject area i.e. finance or engineering or an industry specialist who has worked widely across an industry so ..  So this is not really an exact definition but simply put my definition is someone who has expertise or particular skill either in a subject or in an industry.

JC: How do you fit into the consulting industry?

PH:  That is interesting because I have always chosen operational jobs and every time I have been pulled into consulting roles as an internal consultant for large companies so I have been taken out of the operations role to work on specific things i.e. introducing quality management internally and more recently pulled into actually creating consultancy businesses.  I have a wide range of operational experience but have worked on quite a lot of consultancy projects.  I was also head of consulting for a large UK company.  My current fit is that I consult for a range of companies in Queensland - mainly in the management and leadership/coaching space and the work that I am doing currently is preparing people for Executive posts who have been identified as possibilities but are not there yet. I also do a lot of voluntary consulting for charity organisations.

JC: What attracted you to consulting?

PH:  Having a lot of knowledge and experience and working with fabulous people and companies who know how to do things and then using that to help other companies who may not have access to those people or years of experience.  Working for large companies you are usually working with pretty good Executives who use top class  consultancies that they can afford whereas when you work with perhaps younger, smaller companies they may not have those opportunities. I collect models, ways of collecting data if you like and use those with people who may not have had the opportunity or access to that type of information.  The attraction is sharing knowledge with companies, particularly helping them to survive or make a culture change shift from medium to larger.

JC: How long have you been a consultant?

PH:  I spent five years as an internal consultant in a huge company of over 180,000 employees and ten years at the Industrial Society in the UK.  Since I came to Australia the last 12 years has been all consulting/coaching.  So let’s say 20 years as it makes me sound younger!

JC: What is the value that consultants add in your profession?

PH:  I think it is broadening peoples’ awareness and bringing a range of different thinking.  Lets face it nobody pays consultants if they can do it themselves.  The challenge is when there is new work, a change is needed and the value that you bring is that you have experience of that change in a different organisation.  And when the challenge is a big one companies have still got things to do and bringing in someone from outside to co-ordinate and make it happen is a huge value add.  The value I think that consultants bring in my experience is different thinking.

JC: What are the characteristics of successful consultants in your opinion?

PH: Asking million dollar questions, being able to listen extensively so you get the whole picture before you start asking the questions. And then being able to ask the relevant questions that get to the heart of things rather than just elicit more data.  I think reflecting back an image so they can see discrepancies between their plan and their actions.  I have recent experience with someone who really wants to work in a particular way but is finding it very difficult to break from old ways and sometimes being able to point that out is critical.  So successful consultants are all about listening and being able to honestly reflect.  Saying what the client needs to hear and not what they want to hear - so courage is actually one of the characteristics. Relationship building is huge too, you don’t want to damage a relationship but if you haven’t got the strength to say what needs to be said then it isn’t founded on strength anyway.

JC: What are the additional things that stop consultants from adding value in your association/profession?

PH: I think sometimes having an instant solution.  There is no simple answer to complex problems and if it was easy they would sort it themselves. So coming along with a product before you have heard or thought through the complexity of the problem.  It is very rare that a client would bring someone in to do something they could do themselves.  So I think having a product to sell rather than properly listening and ensuring your product is actually appropriate.  Another thing I think is creating dependency so not teaching them how to use your product properly, meaning that the company aren’t actually buying into the use of the product and not learning to create the solution themselves.  I think also not knowing when to stop.  Continuing on even when things have been resolved.  I think that most consultants have a product/range of products and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is human nature that the consultant wants it to work so part of the process is that you want to please the client and the client wants an answer and a solution. I think the tendency is for consultants to promise that, whereas the reality is that it will go some way towards being a fix but it won’t actually fix everything.  It may also take a lot longer than the original conversation suggested.  People want culture change consultancy often and consultants will talk about it but not mention that it takes on average 3-5 years before you start to notice a difference.  So it is really hard for a consultant to be honest about the realities when a lot of other consultants will tell clients what they want to hear.  I’m not sure it is systemic so much as the need for businesses to do business and the consultant wanting the work.  It is hard to be authentic in your consulting when you need work.

JC: What do some consultants do that give the profession a bad name?

PH: I think I have answered that. It is a case of overpromising and not so much under delivering as not being honest about the length of time or the complexity and resource needed.  Because often you don’t even know until you are in doing the work that it is much bigger than you thoughtI think that sometimes we don’t write in upfront what will we do if we find out the problem is much bigger.  I don’t think that consultants have that conversation with clients very often.

JC: If you could fix anything about consulting what would it be?

PH: I think we need some levels of qualification and professional standards/training and development.  I would have more confidence in the gravitas of somebody who had years of experience.  Having experience is great but a qualification really adds to that gravitas.  It needs levels like when you go to the doctor and a nurse takes out the stitches, the doctor can diagnose, a specialist can provide further information and a surgeo operatesl.  I would like to see levels like that.  I think that large companies do a lot of training and move people up the ranks so something like that does exist but if you are working with one of the lower level people in a consultancy organisation I don’t think there is any guarantee that you will get passed up the ranks if it necessary.  And I have worked with some people who have no operational or management experiences so have never been accountable in a business.  And equally they haven’t really done a lot of consulting either.  There is no way to know when you contact a big consulting company what you are getting.

JC: How would you fix it?

I think how to fix it is to have some way of identifying not just what that person has done but the level that they have worked at too.  As consultants so often use names of clients but don’t talk about their role in the project or what the outcomes were.  And that would help with reputation or credibility of consultants.

Leave a Reply

Business Performance Consultant
Helping leaders take simple effective steps to better business results