How Management Consultants can merge expectations & manage resistance with clients: Best Practices

Aleem Kumi Opinions GhanaWeb Aleem Kumi is Senior Partner, Aliska Business Advisory and Research

Tue, 26 Oct 2021 Source: Aleem Kumi

Generally, the main obligations of management consultants to their clients are to assist the client to; solve management or operational issues, create value for its customers and stakeholders, reach new market and most importantly, help in achieving operational excellence.

Management consultants are expected to use their skills and experience to provide contemporary solutions to their clients for the clients to improve business performance.

Astutely, for management consultants to perform their activities to please their clients, their work should be underlined by integrity, confidentiality and non-circumvention.

Often than not, clients charge their management consultants to identify problems in the organisation, analyse business structure, evaluate management staff, interview and observer employees, analyse financial data, prepare business plan, feasibility studies, performance analysis, budgeting, controllership and create and give presentations, organise work space and meet the clients’ client on their behalf.

In this agile environment, the importance of management consultants cannot be undermined in this 21st century. Let me take a break and highlight how external management consultant assisted in the Ghana banking crisis.

During, the 2017 bank clean-up exercise, business advisory firms, who also serves as management consulting companies, were charged by the Bank of Ghana to retrieve Ten Million Ghana Cedis from the 31,000 creditors.

Even though consultants are supposed to cordially work with their clients to achieve productivity, however, in the course of executing their duties, there are some key challenges that hinders productivity or deter the relationship between a management consultant and a client.

From our experience, the key challenge between management consultant and client are diverse expectations between the consultant and the client and the resistance between the consultant the client. Under these two main challenges, wehave outline the sub- challenges management consultant and their client experience in working together.

Management of firms mostly seek to achieve specific goals of the firm by satisfying both internal and external stakeholders at the same time. The client, who sometimes cannot identify the problem well, can behaviourally explain what appears to be the problem to the management consultant.

Sometimes the expectations of a client are different from the management consultant because of “un-documentation” with respect to what the client requires.

According to Gabor and Deming, quality is an ever-improving process but it is the customer that defines quality. It can therefore be inferred that; the expectations of the client are paramount than the expectations of the consultant.

It is incisive for the consultant to advice the client on the objectives, however, as earlier stated “quality is defined by the customer”. The motivating factors of client and management consultant expectations are outlined by scope of work, specific obligations of each parties, how the task to be executed, cost budget, consultancy fees and the application of resources and technology. It is always prudent for both parties to establish modalities that is underlined by steps of engagements, deliverables, duties and responsibilities. The below are recommendations for management consultants to merge their expectations with the client.

i. Engage the client, understand the needs of the client and document the client’s expectations.

ii. Establish and promote cordial relationship with the client.

iii. Establish communication channels and processes to promote feedback and expectation understanding.

iv. Achieve the deliverables and demonstrate understanding of the client’s expectations.

v. Accurately assign task, responsibilities and duties to parties involve so each party knows how and what to do at what stage to perform their assign task.

vi. Outline the resources that will be needed to execute the project.

vii. It is important for the management consultant to listen carefully to the feedback from the client and leverage on consultant-client discourse to rectify deviations and problems.

viii. It is ethical and professional for the management consultant to respect the client, its customers, its employees, its suppliers and other stakeholders.

ix. It is also intelligent for the management consultant to always focus on the project at hand, be practical, appreciate project schedule time and allocated cost. In essence the management consultant should deliver value to the customer by not causing any scope creep.

x. Be a very good team player and role model.

xi. Appreciate good team players.

xii. Strategically manage assignment scope diligently.

Clients on the other hand needs to appreciate that the management consultant is coming in with four key benefits. That is knowledge, experience, expertise and skills.

From our experience,one of the key challenges between a client and a management consultant is resistance between them, colleagues and team members. It is normal for either party to resist. This is because, resistance is a natural consequence of the consulting process. Consultation is underlined by postulating and implementation new ideas or phenomenon. These new approaches might cause change and the client might not be ready or willing to accept the change.

In retrospect, for some clients, no matter what they yearn for change, it is difficult for them to adapt to the change. Irrespective of the management consultant’s experience and leniency, and irrespective of how logical and sound his or her arguments are, sometimes the client tends to respond differently by resisting change.

Arguably, the biggest factor of non-adoption to change is more of a sentimental issue rather than logical issue.

This is because a business man should be driven by coherent assertions that are underlined by facts, objectives and feasible outcomes. Handler and Kram argued that, in business, sometimes it takes a while for players to conform to a change. This is because, they are used to a process, phenomenon or a person.

They further noted that, consultants and key personnel in business should understand and expect a sentimental reaction called resistance, when there is going to be an introduction of change. Also, players who seems themselves as change in organisation become sentimentally bitter when the change did not come from them nor their department.

The below are recommendations for management consultants and clients to manage resistance between them. The first stage is to allow the client to express themselves logically and emotionally on why they are resisting to change.

Additionally, any other issue that may hinder the progress of change should also be discussed. Then, each party needs to express their concerns logically to remove sentimental threats. In the event of which emotions cannot be eliminated, measures should be instituted to limit sentimental threat impacts.

To mitigate resistance, it is better for the consultant to have an in-depth discussion with the client and prepare an action plan on who is in charge of different categories of decision-making pertaining to change.

The action plan, which can also be developed into a project charter can make the client understand and be ready to respond to any other resistance including his or her own.

This strategy can assist the client to understand the effectiveness of the recommendations of the consultant. The consultant can leverage on his or her skills to mitigate resistance by following the below steps.

a. The skill to recognise and classify resistance.

b. The skill to plan and promote intellectual discourse to highlight ideas that are logically or sentimentally conflicting with the consultant’s opinions.

c. The skill to inspire the client to express their views on why they are resisting.

d. Document resistance arguments, establish trends and action plans to help the client understand the negative multiplying effect of the resistance.

e. The skill to allow the client to shape or change the management consultant viewpoint if the expectation of the client is different from that of the management consultant.

f. The skill to always affirm that, it is the client who is in charge and all activities seek to add value and please the client.

g. The skill to shy away from taking resistance personally.

h. The skill to recognize that, resistance might be signal that recommendations are correct.

In light of the above, measures can always be instituted to mitigate the challenges that arises from management consultant and client working together.

In furtherance, elements that solidifies advisory business are, consultants and clients mutually understanding of goals, objectives, obligations, communication strategy, risk management strategies, success measurements and how to treat team people.

The author is Aleem Kumi, Senior Partner, Aliska Business Advisory and Research. He can be reached at: k.aleem@aliskaconsult.com/aleemkumi@gmail.com

Columnist: Aleem Kumi