The Consultant-Leader Relationship

You don’t need a time machine to see how running a business has changed in just the last 40 years. New productivity methodologies have appeared (Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, total quality management, etc.). Advertising has evolved (social, digital, mobile, etc.). Computers and emerging technologies have completely upended the way everything is done, from communications to the production line. Business circa 1982 hardly resembles the way we do things today . . . or does it?

Back in 1982, Harvard Business School professor Arthur Turner published an article in Harvard Business Review about the important role business consultants can play — and the incredible impact they can make — in any type of organization. Specifically, Turner proposed a model of consulting objectives to help a business owner or manager manage expectations with a consultant, and vice versa. What’s most fascinating about his model is that it still holds true with today’s partnerships between consultants and the leaders who bring them in, in spite of the tremendous shifts business as a whole has endured in the last 40 years.

Eight expectations

In his article, “Consulting is More Than Giving Advice,” Turner establishes eight fundamental, yet surprisingly common-sense, steps in the consultant-leader relationship:

Diagram from Turner’s “Consulting is More Than Giving Advice,” published in Harvard Business Review in September 1982

Turner explains that the first five steps, which are illustrated in the graphic as the bottom of the pyramid, are “legitimate functions” of the consulting trade, while the top three steps are “by-products” of the other purposes. In other words, as your consultant delivers on the first five steps, together you build toward the other three goals.

More than a two-step process

Many business leaders believe, as Turner’s title hints, that a consultant’s job is limited to performing a quick evaluation of how you’re doing business and then providing a solution to the problem he or she finds (Steps 1 and 2). For example, maybe you own a restaurant and your revenues have been declining steadily for the last six months (let’s forget for a moment that we’re emerging from a pandemic). A consultant could come in and audit your books, survey your customers and vendors, and share with you statistics on the local economy and your competitors (Step 1). After reviewing this data, the consultant provides a solution to your problem (Step 2): The profit margins on your food and beverages are diminishing.

Great! Now you know what’s wrong and why you’re losing money. But why on earth would you stop there? A good business consultant will fully execute the next steps as part of your agreement:

  • Conduct a diagnosis that may redefine the problem,
  • Provide recommendations, and
  • Assist in implementation.

In our restaurant example, your consultant would dig a little deeper into your decreasing profit margins. He or she may find that you haven’t increased your menu pricing even though food costs have gone up, or perhaps your chef is ordering more expensive cuts of meat than before, or your supplier has raised delivery costs that haven’t been accounted for. Next, the consultant would make recommendations of how to remedy the situation in a way that doesn’t disrupt your business. Finally, a great consultant will help to implement the changes, perhaps helping you to determine a good markup on your entrees or vetting new vendors. 

The icing on the (pyramid-shaped) cake

In real life situations, these first five steps in the consulting-business partnership will be more in-depth, well-documented, and detailed. They’ll get to know you, your business, and how you got to where you are today. They’ll explore problems you’ve had in the past, what solutions you’ve tried, and what has been successful. 

Additionally, your consultant will walk through the diagnosis, recommendation, and implementation processes hand-in-hand with you so you and your business will be better equipped to prevent or tackle similar issues in the future. That’s what Turner means by the top of the consulting purposes pyramid being “by-products” of the first five. These three steps naturally evolve from the process:

  • Building a consensus and commitment,
  • Facilitating client learning, and 
  • Improving organizational effectiveness,

By involving you in the problem-solving steps, your consultant is not only teaching you how to do the same, but is also encouraging and supporting your success — and your commitment to making necessary changes and improvements. The end result of any successful consulting engagement will be improved organizational effectiveness, which leads to a whole plethora of great things — better processes, higher revenues, and happier customers … and leaders!

Ad4! Group now offers professional consulting services for businesses of all types and sizes. Whether you are a new business looking for ways to start out on sound financial footing, or an established business looking for ways to increase revenue, working our end-to-end business consulting services with Ad4! Group makes sense!