In the fast moving and ever changing world of IT the ability of IT Managers and Practitioners to be truly effective consultants has never been greater.
So what are the capabilities and attributes displayed by the very best IT Consultants? I believe they fall into seven categories as follows:
In looking at each of these seven key contributors to success in turn I have made the underlying assumption that the primary objective of the IT Consultant is to explore, reveal and extract the full commercial value within a client account. In other words it’s all about CLIENT INTIMACY.
A Thought Leader is someone or a corporate entity, recognised to be a leader in their field. The outside world determines whether an individual or an organisation is a thought leader.
Thought leadership is based on reputation. That reputation is based on the person’s or organisation’s understanding of its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader market-place in which s/he operates. Quite simply they are deemed to be pre-eminent in their area of expertise.
To be a thought leader requires a spirit of generosity – generosity of time, intelligence and knowledge. It also requires the ability to philosophise, intellectualise and think ahead in order to push the boundaries of current thinking.
Thought leaders are constantly hungry for knowledge and insights. They know where and how to find out about current best practices adopted by market-leaders. They know how to access information on emerging technologies, product/system updates and leading edge/”bleeding edge” thinking.
They use this knowledge to be a catalyst for change, to challenge current thinking and to change existing paradigms. They apply their thinking to test out new hypotheses and to draw conclusions which they share openly, frequently putting at risk their reputation.
Thought leaders know how to influence others through the use of different media to publish their thoughts. They know how to:
• Cultivate the Press
• Publish White Papers, Case Studies and Research/Survey Results
• Submit Articles via Social Networks
• Engage with Professional Groups and Communities
• Obtain high level speaking engagements at Conferences/Trade Shows
• Organise and lead Brainstorming Events
In short, thought leaders give Thought Leadership the highest priority in their lives. They see Thought Leadership as a strategic imperative and are fully committed to it. They have an unswerving belief that they can make a difference in their chosen area of expertise.
If you are going to be a Best in Class IT Consultant you must be dedicated to this task of Thought Leadership.
When considering the difference they can make to their client’s situation the Best in Class IT Consultant engages in “outside in” thinking. In other words they start with a full understanding of the drivers of change surrounding their client. They understand that their expertise is one of many enablers of their client’s future success and that to fully leverage that expertise they need a full understanding of the client’s market-place and the client itself.
Best in Class IT Consultants therefore take time to research the context in which they will be operating with a given client.
When it comes to the client’s market-place they make sure that they fully understand:
• The demands of its customers, now and in the future
• Competitor threats facing the client
• The threat posed by new entrants to the client’s market
• The impact of substitute products and services which could undermine the client’s business
• The power and influence that existing suppliers to the client exercise over the client
They also research and understand the drivers of change in the client’s market including:
• The Regulatory Environment
• The state of the Economy
• Social/Cultural trends
• Adoption of new and leading edge Technologies in the market-place
• The use of new routes to market being adopted by organisations in the client’s market sector
The Best in Class IT Consultant uses this external research to identify and analyse the client’s current and likely future response to these drivers of change by finding out as much as possible about the client’s:
• Current Resources
• Employee Capabilities
• Quality of Management
• Style of Leadership
• Current Values and Culture
S/he then uses this understanding of the client’s current situation and preferred future situation to identify key issues which s/he could address with IT related solutions.
Instead of starting with their technical expertise and thinking how they can work more productively with the client IN the client’s business they start with big picture thinking and spotting opportunities for helping their client to work ON the business for future success.
This Outside/In thinking versus Inside/Out thinking enables them to have far more wide reaching discussions with their client, and thereby to differentiate themselves as someone who can bring long term added value to the client’s business.
Best in Class IT Consultants see the importance of this bigger, wider, holistic approach to their client involvement.
A thorough understanding of the client’s big picture will lead the Best in Class IT Consultant into thinking about how best to help the client to come up with different IT strategies and options aligned to the overall strategy of the client’s organisation.
To consider IT related strategic options the Best in Class IT Consultant takes time to understand the organisation’s overall strategy in its given market-place. S/he takes time to find out:
• Where in the market-place will the client be focussing its efforts to gain long term competitive advantage
• Its growth model, e.g. organic growth, acquisition, merger, disinvestment, joint ventures etc, and if the strategy for growth will be different in different geographies if the client is international/global
• Its key differentiators, e.g. product quality, customised services, price, niche player, one stop shop etc, and therefore what the brand stands for
• Its economic model, e.g. highly customised premium priced products/services or standardised low cost offerings, or a mixture of both sold direct to customers or via franchising, licensing or reseller networks
• Its speed of expansion using its existing routes to market and also new, additional routes to market e.g. e-commerce
By understanding the strategic intent of the client the Best in Class IT Consultant will put forward different IT related options for the client to consider and evaluate.
The Best in Class IT Consultant will construct, with the client, an evaluation process to compare the different options and select the best one. S/he will work in partnership alongside the client to co-create the best option powerfully aligned with the organisation’s overall strategy.
This strategic thinking discipline and rigour enables him/her to effect transformational change in the client’s business and not just transactional changes. It’s a key area of skill.
The most successful IT Consultants know everything there is to know about their chosen area of expertise stemming from their background and experience. They also know a lot about a wide variety of the current best practices specifically relating to IT including:
• Existing Technologies
• Emerging Technologies
• Operating Systems Upgrades/Platform Changes
• Product Updates/Enhancements
• Systems Development/Deployment
But in addition they are very familiar with the use of broader concepts relating to:
• Quality Improvement
• Business Process Improvement/Re-engineering
• Continuous Improvement
• Lean Manufacturing
• Efficiency Improvement/Use of Self Managed Teams
They use their specific and broader knowledge and experience to ‘educate’ their client on:
• The true reality of their current situation
• What is a possible, preferred situation
• The gap the client needs to address
• How to address it
• How to use the expertise of external specialists/suppliers to provide additional necessary resources to bridge the gap
Best in Class IT Consultants are not afraid to challenge their client’s existing thinking, inform the client on what is now possible and advise on how best to go about initiating and delivering required changes.
In fulfilling this role they come to be viewed by clients as a trusted friend, someone to be relied upon for best advice, and a long term partner in their business.
Not surprisingly there is a strong link between this Experience and Know How capability and their Thought Leadership capability. The two are inextricably woven together. The one, Thought Leadership, is a strong contributor to Experience and Know How, a key differentiator for the Best in Class IT Consultant.
The Best in Class IT Consultant is not only capable of giving the best advice s/he is also a problem solver. The skill of diagnosing problems leads to the ability to solve problems with all the experience and know how the consultant possesses. So, problem solving is a key area of skill for the Best in Class IT Consultant.
What do the Best in Class do differently from the rest? Here are some thoughts:
• They see themselves as something of a ‘detective’, objectively, and with an open mind, information gathering from a number of angles. They possess an instinct, an intuition, when hearing something that doesn’t quite ring true.
• They use others to share their hypotheses to try and establish the root cause of problems
• They look at problems/situations from a variety of angles using proven diagnostic processes and techniques
• They gather information which is both objective (existing data) and subjective (thoughts, views and opinions of key stakeholders)
• They are ‘emotionally intelligent’ seeing how people’s differing values and/or objectives, internal politics, power plays and hidden agendas may be clouding the root cause of problems
This ability to not ‘be put off the scent’ when diagnosing and solving client problems is a key contributor to the success of the Best in Class IT Consultant.
Not only are they good at combining their objective and subjective information gathering and interpretation skills they are positively interested in growing and developing the combination of skills.
They are addicted to rooting out the truth so that whatever the advice they give or the solutions they put forward, they know that what they are proposing has real integrity and will solve the problem.
Having said this they are realistic enough to know that often proposals will not be fully accepted by the client for reasons of timing, key stakeholder influences, implementation of other changes and a host of other reasons. They therefore are willing to work collaboratively with the client to deliver what is realistically possible.
Best in Class IT Consultants quite simply are excellent problem solvers.
The Best in Class IT Consultant regards networking and relationship building within a client as essential to their success.
They recognise the importance of identifying and getting to know key decision-makers and decision-influencers within the client as well as within their own organisation.
They know how to use both direct and indirect networking activities to meet with new people. They understand how to build rapport, start a conversation, continue a dialogue and build a relationship into one in which they are viewed as a valuable friend, confidante and adviser.
They understand how to use a variety of influencing styles and skills to best effect.
They recognise the needs and agendas of key stakeholders and can sell the benefits of their ideas to them in a way which clearly shows empathy and an understanding of their needs.
They understand the decision-making processes their clients use when it comes to specific areas of change. They are in tune with how the internal structure of the organisation actually works versus should work.
They recognise the importance of teamwork when it comes to client relationship building and they orchestrate meetings between colleagues in their own organisation with counterparts in the client organisation to build a strong, multi-layer engagement between the two organisations.
They know the importance of working with colleagues servicing different parts of the client’s business feeding them information and intelligence on the client’s activities and future plans. This enables them to constantly ‘scan’ and interpret the client’s bigger picture in a holistic way.
Best in Class IT Consultants are socially ‘at ease’, able to converse with people on a variety of topics on a variety of levels, in a variety of situations. They are very much ‘people centric’ talking WITH people and not AT people. They are highly responsive to people’s needs fulfilling promises and commitments they have made to build trust in the relationship.
In short, far from being ‘technology geeks’ and talking about themselves, they are genuine believers in client intimacy i.e. fully understanding the heart beat and emotions of the client not just the exterior facade.
This ability to build relationships enables them to stay in touch with the client, learn from the client, spot new business opportunities and turn them into new revenue streams, probably the ultimate test of their success!
All consultants are ‘change agents’. That is the reason they exist. That is the primary focus of their role. And that is why the skills of change leadership are so important to them and their success.
Effective change leaders have positive beliefs about change and the value of change. They possess an understanding of change management processes. They know how to use and apply change management skills in the processes.
Change leadership and management of course is a whole topic in its own right so I will focus on a few of the essentials for the IT Consultant.
For the Best in Class IT Consultant change leadership is essentially about three areas of contribution –Consultation, Collaboration and Communication.
• S/he will help the client to see and confront the brutal facts, bringing fresh information and new insights to help the client see their current reality, and the need for change, clearly
• S/he will help the client create a future, preferred situation using a Gap Analysis or similar diagnostic
• S/he will explain the financial benefits of a proposed change so that the client can clearly see the Return on Investment
• S/he will assist in creating a coalition for change within the client i.e. the key stakeholder group
• S/he will assist in explaining the proposed change and selling it to this group to gain their support
• S/he will add value to the client’s planning and implementation processes as a result of similar experiences with other clients
The Best in Class IT Consultant will:
• Act as a team member, with the client’s own team of people, to identify problems and their root causes
• Identify and evaluate strategic options
• Co-create customised solutions to the client’s needs, adding know how based on their experience and knowledge gained over the years
• Partner the client in selling solutions internally with the client
• Bring into play specialists from within his/her own organisation to provide additional resources to the client’s own resources
The Best in Class IT Consultant will:
• Help the client to construct a stakeholder map
• Assist in the delivery of key stakeholder communication plans
• Actively support the client with internal stakeholder communication and influencing before and during roll out of changes
• Help the client with internal conflict resolution
• Act as a coach/facilitator in the change management process
In summary, in the area of change leadership, the Best in Class IT Consultant will partner the client throughout the change management process to ensure that the change is implemented effectively and anchored into the organisation as the new norm.
So there you have it – the seven practices of Best in Class IT Consultants.
Use the checklist below to consider your current level of expertise in these seven practices and use the results to focus on your own personal growth and development needs in these areas.
CEO Buy and Train
Consider each of the seven areas of knowledge/skill requirements below and tick those boxes alongside specific knowledge/skill areas you believe you need to focus on for your own personal growth and development.
1. Thought Leadership
On which of the following areas of Thought Leadership do you need to focus?
- Creating the time for Thought Leadership activities
- Ability to philosophise, intellectualise and push the boundaries of current thinking
- Accessing information on current best practices
- Accessing information on emerging technologies, product/system updates and platform changes
- Being able to use the media to promote your Thought Leadershi.
2. Client Knowledge
On which of the following areas of Client Knowledge do you need to focus?
- Understanding the client’s market-place
- Understanding the drivers of change impacting the client
- Analysing and understanding the client’s response to its market-place and external drivers of change
- Big picture holistic thinking
- Spotting opportunities to assist the client
3. Strategic Thinking
On which of the following areas of Strategic Thinking do you need to focus?
- Understanding the client’s options
- Creating IT related strategic options for the client (aligned to client’s overall strategy)
- Evaluating strategic options
- Creating the best strategic option
- Transformational versus transactional thinking
4. Experience and Know How
On which of the following areas of Experience and Know How do you need to focus?
- Expanding own specialist expertise
- Expanding own knowledge and understanding of existing/emerging technologies
- Expanding own knowledge and understanding of systems upgrades/platform enhancements and product updates/enhancements
- Expanding own knowledge and understanding of Business Process Improvement, Continuous Improvement, Quality Improvement, and Lean Manufacturing
- Using own knowledge and experience to challenge a client’s current thinking/understanding
5. Problem Solving
On which of the following areas of Problem Solving do you need to focus?
- Information gathering skills
- Diagnostic skills
- Getting to the root cause of problems
- Testing hypotheses
- Selling solutions with impact
6. Relationship Management
On which of the following areas of Relationship Management do you need to focus?
- Identifying key decision-makers/stakeholders
- Using direct and indirect networking processes/skills
- Understanding a client’s decision-making processes
- Identifying key stakeholders
- Improving own ‘Emotional Intelligence’
7. Change Leadership
On which of the following areas of Change Leadership do you need to focus?
- Knowledge of change management processes
- Improvement in the use of Client Consultation Skills
- Improvement in the use of Collaboration skill with the client
- Improvement in the use of Client Communication Skills
- Ability to influence and manage different responses to change