What does it mean to be a Consultant? | Practicus Background -fireworks
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Practicus Partner Nicolas Faure tells us what it means to him to be a Consultant and how he thinks the industry can claim back what has become a disparaging term.

There are few things in life I am more passionate about than my wife, my family, good wine and rugby. Indeed a glass of wine while watching Les Bleus is time well spent. And as a passionate Frenchman you can be assured that rousing spirit courses through my veins.

But there is one other thing that draws a similar beat in my heart and that is my job.

To me being a Consultant is more than just a job, it’s more than just a pay cheque. It has become my vocation and a lifelong passion.

I care about my clients and colleagues and seeing them achieve their goals gives me a buzz every time. This human side of my role, the building of strong relationships, is perhaps the thing that I enjoy most.

Indeed, I believe very strongly that relationship building should always be more than transactional. Understanding what the customer wants makes a huge difference to the success of a project and it is what differentiates a good Consultant from others. You don’t necessarily need specific industry knowledge to do this, you need to be able to empathise. You need to be able to quickly establish an emotional bond and to convey authentic passion to support your client and work with them as a true partner.

Perhaps a good analogy for the benefit of trusted relationships in the workplace is to imagine a game of rugby. You’re advancing the ball down the field and pass to a position where you know your team mate will be but you cannot quite see them. This is the ‘blind pass’ and it only works when there is ultimate trust between team mates and when there is a shared goal and willingness to work collaboratively.

What I have found fascinating is that talented and clever people do not always make good consultants. Many are not able to build the strength of relationships that makes the ‘blind pass’ possible – they never achieve real trust. Over the years I have seen colleagues (and competitors) fail to thrive in this industry, there has been a common denominator. These people were not motivated by a desire to establish true partnerships with their clients and therefore could not empathise with them, which led to difficult professional interactions.

I firmly believe that in the consulting industry this ability is a prerequisite to a successful and enjoyable career because that “click” is what enables long lasting relationships with customers.

In a consulting market dominated by strong brands, success relies on more than technical expertise and industry experience. It relies on the experience customers have while buying consulting. Delivering a truly enjoyable experience – as well as value – will make all the difference when it comes to the customer deciding whether to re-engage or recommend your services.

But Consultant is a dirty word

Consultants have a reputation for doing things to rather than with clients and of course this approach cannot be the root to a successful relationship. In fact, I would go so far as to assert that you cannot be effective as a Consultant if this way of working is core to your belief system. You need to collaborate and allow them to trust you. Don’t steal their light!

I was recently invited to lead an informal group discussion on whether the term Consultant is still meaningful. Without exception each member of the group identified themselves as a Consultant. But, many shied away from using the term because it has been polluted by the kind of negative behaviours that have traditionally taken place within the industry. Perception of the industry is such that true Consultants are using jargon to describe themselves for fear of being pigeonholed by the negative stereotype.

In order to build effective relationships and bonds of trust, this industry trait has to disappear. We need to show our clients and commentators that Consultants are motivated by the desire to help people and companies improve as they strive towards their goals.

The times, they are a changin’

When I began my career there was one kind of Consultant. The kind that came in to advise the board on a strategic shift. Today, we find Consultants in all areas of a business, from implementing new systems in IT to creating new ways of driving employee engagement in HR.

Increasingly, it’s more than advice that these Consultants are called upon to provide. They get stuck in and work collaboratively with client staff to provide a practical level of support and knowledge transfer that will ensure the benefits of change are sustainable after the Consultant has left the company.

Perhaps more than this, clients have changed and so have the behaviours they are willing to accept from a service provider. Customers no longer want to buy the kind of stereotypical behaviour that made them feel excluded from important decision making, they want demonstrable value from their consultancy team and the industry needs to understand this and find more collaborative ways of working to help challenge negative perceptions.

To begin with, consultancies need to give their Consultants the freedom to be good Consultants by unburdening them from utilisation targets and other perverse incentives that distract from focusing on the customer’s true needs and harm the relationship.

More than just a job

I’ve thought a lot about how this could happen, and in some ways it seems simple. Be honest, show integrity, be empathetic, listen and be passionate in the work you do. As a Consultant, you are the product and your personality is what sells you as an asset to a company.

Being a Consultant is more than a job to me. It’s a vocation and it’s one that I am passionate about. The chance that I took all those years ago has given me the opportunity and the privilege to work alongside very talented individuals (clients and colleagues) from whom I have learned a lot and whom all have helped me become the person I am today.

Being a Consultant, is something that we as professionals should be proud of and we should claim that term back by delivering good experiences to help broaden people’s perspectives. We can only change the way people feel about consultancy by calling ourselves what we are and clarifying that it is a helpful role. A good Consultant’s overall objective may be to help the client make more money but the path to achieving this goal should not be littered with collateral damage.

So what does it mean to me to be a Consultant? It means working as a true partner with my clients and colleagues, being authentic at all times, building trust and real relationships. It means being an individual and not just a cog in someone else’s machine.

What does it mean to you?

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Nick Faure

Nicolas Faure
Energy & Utilities Partner

Nick leads Practicus‘s Energy & Utilities practice. He has over 20 years’ experience delivering large programmes for global companies and managing client relationships.