By: Tim Bergman, Founder and President, The BERGMAN Group
The use of outside consultants in the financial sector is on the rise – and when used properly can pay huge dividends.
Financial institutions continue to tighten the belt and to identify “low hanging fruit” – opportunities for true competitive advantage without the need for large investments and/or over taxing limited internal resources. Institutions are increasingly turning to expert outside consultants for help – and their approach can have a dramatic impact on the experience and results they can achieve.
This article will address why and when outside help makes sense, how to recognize the signs that your organization is in need and provide practical tips for getting the most out of external expert consultants.
Why Consultants Are Needed – Today More Than Ever
The increasing use of expert consultants is being driven by:
1. The Need for Specialization and Expertise
Technology, delivery expectations and the demands of systems management are increasingly complex. Many institutions struggle with maintaining essential or necessary expertise to keep pace.. Maintaining even a basic understanding of changing regulations, customer expectations and new delivery systems is a full time job. Having the luxury to adequately research available options is almost always trumped by the need to “do more with less” and/or by the ever present “more pressing priorities”. Most managers are experiencing an expansion and generalization of their responsibilities – and as a result find it increasingly difficult to develop specific or sufficient expertise needed to effectively manage the growing business elements under their responsibility.
2. Internal Gaps/Lack of Management Expertise
Tenured managers continue to be promoted to higher value strategic positions, frequently leaving a void in expertise and experience. Promoted/departed managers take with them years of practical experience, relationships and the ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently – all critical skills that are not readily or easily duplicated. Equally important – new managers are not afforded the time or mentoring they require to move down the experience curve effectively – and are often hesitant to voice the need for help and guidance. When things are going bad they rarely have the confidence to bring the need for help to light – and only do so when the problem has reached an intolerable level.
3. Prioritization of Long Term Problems – including those not “Terribly Broken” or not “Completely on Fire”
Problems and opportunities that are not identified as priority projects by senior management will invariably remain unattended or unaddressed. If the organization is already stretched to the breaking point simply trying to keep up with the current work load additional projects will continue to put off– unless something in the system changes. In some situations it is simply a case of being too close to the problem; front line managers become frustrated by their inability to make needed changes and/or feel “trapped” by current providers – and simply lose the will to fight.
Typically it is only when senior management brings attention to the situation – and communicates urgency, establishes priority and sets an expectation for change that something different can be expected to happen.
Additional conditions in which outside expert resources may be in order include:
- When contracts or services are complex and/or proprietary
- When large purchases or long term contracts are under consideration •During periods of exceptional technological development and advancement
- After significant management turnover or changes in responsibility
- When new or risky “cannot fail” alternatives need validation from an outside expert
The Benefits of Using an Expert Consultant
An effective consultant brings a great deal of expertise – the most valuable being their unique experience and learning as a result of completing projects prior to coming to you. Nothing beats knowledge and wisdom in heading off false starts, expensive delays and out right disasters – particularly for those dealing with complex challenges, uncertainty and/or limited in house expertise.
Another significant advantage of using the experts is their ability to deliver a proven, structured process. Using a disciplined project management approach the client can expect a number of benefits including:
- Time savings
- Reduced internal frustration/effective resource allocation
- Lower risk/improved success
Expert consults appreciate the value of time, and the best take pride in being effective and efficient with a minimal amount of internal assistance. Leveraging the external experts also allows internal staff to focus on high value activities in areas of their expertise – versus trying to reinvent the wheel as a result of starting at ground zero.
The Perils of Ready, FIRE! Aim – The Dos and Don’ts of Using Expert Consultants
Rule Number 1 – Avoid “General” or “Concept Only” Consultants
Hire a consultant with experience in your business – and in the area you have identified as needing help. Few institutions have the luxury of teaching the nuances of your particular business to outsiders – and expert consultants (by definition) provide value as a result of knowing more about certain items and how to impact/change them – than you do. Look for practical experience with generating real change and results; if the consultant cannot readily quantify the requirements to achieve expected results for your project – find someone that can.
Rule Number 2 – It’s Up to The Client to Establish Expectations
It is the responsibility of senior management to establish and shape strategy – and to identify key objectives that will drive ultimate success – not the consultant. How you set expectations – both internally and with your consultant on how the project will be managed will have a dramatic impact on you, your internal staff and the experience as a whole.
While the consultant will be responsible for facilitation and providing recommendations – they will look to the sponsor on a number of critical variables including resolving conflict and/or addressing obstacles that may be compromising the project.
Rule Number 3 – Exercise Due Diligence
Taking the time to carefully assess needs, evaluate options and make a consultant selection based on clearly defined parameters is a recipe for success. Waiting to the last moment or making a consultant choice out of desperation and/or panic rarely works out to anyone’s advantage.
Find a consultant with specific experience in the area you are addressing – and within your industry. Talk to references about their experiences – good and bad – and the benefits they realized as a result of the consultant’s services.
The organizations ability to select the right consultant/expert resources is instrumental to getting projects done, done right and with significantly less frustration, strain and drain on limited internal resources. The pay-off for using a calculated, deliberate plan – and leveraging the right consultant to maximize results can be substantial.
The pace of change and complexity in today’s financial sector is unparalleled – and the ability to effectively address the challenges and opportunities associated with this complex transformation requires a new and bold approach.
As institutions attempt to develop true competitive advantage there is a growing realization of the benefits available thought expert consultants. Simply allowing the “status quo” and the inability/failure of the organization to address needed changes can represent a significant liability in today’s economy. The use of outside consultants is on the rise – and when properly leveraged can materially impact the delivery of completed projects that pay huge dividends.
The ability of Institution to identify and realize these opportunities remains largely a senior leadership challenge. Only by prioritizing projects, setting clear expectations and by allocating the required resources to attain these objectives can management realistically expect to achieve extraordinary success.