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What is the role of a consultant?

By Christophe Deroo, Head of SAP PS VISEO
January 30, 2018

Versatile, multi-tasking, able to make the link between several professions and requiring a great capacity for synthesis and adaptation, the consulting profession combines requirement, discretion and inventiveness.

In its etymology, the term "consultant" carries two definitions which are entirely opposed: the consultant is the one who gives consultations, i.e. who delivers his opinions and advice; he is, on the contrary, the one who consults, i.e. who asks for opinions and advice. That the definitions of the word which designates our profession are antinomic is revealing of the context in which it is practiced; the profession of consultant is the art of playing with contradictions.

Be a listener

It is the first of the paradoxes of this profession: if the purpose of a consulting mission is to issue opinions and recommendations concerning questions and problems raised by our client - we are there to express advice - the concrete reality of the work is the opposite since the consultant must first of all show a strong quality of listening to integrate, absorb and assimilate the object of his mission, the organisations, the contexts, the subjects and the themes that compose it.

Of course, it is not a question of the consultant simply positioning himself as a spectator of a monologue in which he is deliberately absent; it is a question of setting up a dialogue that will be punctuated by the questions he addresses to his interlocutors - and they must be relevant for the exchange to be rich and useful.

Above all, it is about listening, hearing and understanding what is expressed, as much as what is not said.

Be invisible

If very often the consultant's position is central to his mission or his project - he is even often, consciously or not, put forward by his client because of his experience and skills, to define the solutions and even to defend them - it is nevertheless essential that the consultant understands that the objective he must pursue is clearly that it is his client who bears and supports the solutions designed and deployed.

It is therefore essential that the consultant seeks to ensure that his client can appropriate the issues, questions and solutions so that he is ultimately no more than a support, even though the client will naturally tend to rely constantly on the consultant.

In the more or less short term, it is ownership that becomes the marker if not of a successful mission or at least of a quality client - consultant relationship: a client who appropriates things ("what I imagined"... "what I designed"... "what I propose"...) it is the proof - by the erasure of the consultant - of the mission's success.

Be sustainable

The context of our consulting assignments changes frequently, depending on the projects and expertise needs. It is the consultant's lot to start and finish missions, to take in hand new problems and new subjects. Our job is to be in perpetual motion. To come and pass.

While we only visit our clients as part of our missions, in a very general way, our interventions are often quite engaging in the short or medium term when for example we work on the design or re-engineering of business processes, on the implementation of financial or logistics management solutions. While our missions can be short, their impacts can be long. Moreover, it is one of the expected benefits of a consulting mission or at least one of the added values sought: that the proposed solutions are designed with a view to sustainability.

It will also be easy to gloss over another contradiction that this creates since, today more than yesterday, the consultant must also work on the implementation of flexible, scalable and sustainable solutions!

Be a time explorer

If the purpose of the consultant's missions is to design processes and design solutions for the future (define the target !), the consultant is constantly questioned or taken back to the past ! There is not a day when these two questions are not asked by the consultant to his client - how do you do it? or by the client to his consultant - how is it done elsewhere?

Our skills, our experience and above all our ability to refer to them in the right way are one of the keys to the success of our missions. It is on the basis of "what we have done" that we know "what we must do".

Be global and be specific

In immersion in the organizations of its clients, the consultant confronts the men and women of the companies he integrates, in order to accompany them in the collection of their needs, the definition and validation of processes and the realization of solutions to deploy. Depending on the actors met, their organizational and hierarchical positioning and their field of activity, the work or information sharing must be carried out at the right level of detail, according to the appropriate mesh. The way to approach a feedback meeting with a decision committee or a working meeting to define a technical specification with an R&D laboratory technician is not the same. The adaptation of the discourse to the interlocutors and the stakes is here highly appropriate: the consultant constantly switches from detail to global, and vice versa. Synthesize details or detail synthesis points: a more frequent than daily exercise.

Be a juggler

Besides that the consultant's job is constantly reinventing itself (it is never the same client, the same context, the same problems), it is important to consider that it requires a certain intelligence of situations! The consultant wears several costumes (like the consultant several tailors): it is necessary to know how to be "profession" while remaining "solution", to know how to be "tool" without losing sight of the "business process" or the user vision in his daily practice, to "engage" without being "lost" and thus to know how to remain in his place, to "defend" ideas, positions and ways of seeing without taking the risk of personifying the subjects, problems and solutions. If "appropriating" the context, the business, the organizations, the stakes is one of the keys, it is also necessary to "detach" and take the necessary distance to the good composition of the solutions. Being a consultant means knowing how to adapt, juggle, modify your approach, modulate your discourse. Being a consultant means knowing how to change.

All its contradictions more or less transparent, more or less proven (and whose features are undoubtedly a little magnified in this text) make of this profession of consultant one of the most enriching professions! The variety of situations, the multitude of contexts, the diversity of contacts, etc. mean that one mission is never the same as another. Especially since today, with the evolutions that our technical and technological environments are undergoing (process digitalization, cloud, big data, platform development, system interconnections, learning, user experience, etc..), these factors multiply even more than yesterday the opportunities to enrich our skills and knowledge. There is still so much to learn and so much to discover and digest to always offer more values to our customers.