Business or Management Consulting, be it specific to the veterinary industry or otherwise, is a competitive business. For those in the veterinary and animal health industries, many have seen an influx of consultants into the space, as former practice owners sell up and look to advise others. But what do you need to consider when choosing a consultant for your organisation? Regardless of what industry you’re in, there are some fundamental traits that a good consultant will exhibit. Here are 5 important attributes to look out for when choosing your next consultant.
1) They evidence expertise through relevant educational content:
The first job of the consultant (before you even enquire) is to establish some authority and build confidence in potential clients that they know what they’re talking about and can be trusted. Therefore, when looking for a consultant, check out what they have written about. Do they have informative content on their website? Do they even have a website?! Have they contributed to journals or industry news articles? Do they have useful guides and other free information that you can access? A good consultant should be able to point to a wealth of relevant information that they have written or contributed to.
2) The consultant who won your business is the person doing (or leading) the project:
When having your initial discussions with a consultant or consulting firm, make sure the consultant that you bought into plays a dominant role in the execution of the project. In larger firms, that may not be the case. Unless it was made clear in the initial dialogue or proposal that other colleagues, or junior associates would be leading your project as opposed to the primary consultant you met with, then anyone other than that consultant taking the reins is tantamount to moving the goalposts, and there’ll be a bitter taste in your mouth before you’ve even begun. There’s nothing wrong with a team of people working on a project, particularly on the admin side, but a consultant should be clear with you from the off who your main points of contact are and what they’re responsible for.
3) The consultant has both experience AND qualifications:
There has been a huge increase in the number of veterinary business consultants. However, as catty as it sounds, just because someone owned and ran a veterinary practice successfully does not mean that they have the skills to be an agent of change in another organisation. The same applies for business owners in other industries. Understanding organisational development, leadership, culture, strategy, innovation, are all essential characteristics of management consulting, as is being well versed in numerous analytical or diagnostic tools. Make sure that experience can be backed up with academic acumen. It goes the other way as well! An individual might have letters after their name in their chosen field of business, but unless they’ve lived and breathed veterinary practice life and understand the daily operational and organisational challenges, then it’s likely their advice will lack context and feasibility.
Whilst there is rationale behind the cookie cutter solution – it works for most, so let’s fit clients into the solution rather than fit a solution round the client, often making it cheaper for the client and more lucrative for the consultant, it actually goes against the very essence of consulting. The essence of management consulting is in finding solutions, not imposing them. So, although a particular solution might sound plausible and appealing, it may be worth asking whether there is a solution that will be unique to your organisation.
5) You get on well!
Consulting is a relationship business. And whilst it is important for a consultant to challenge a client on certain assumptions, or to have difficult conversations during a consulting intervention, it’s really important that you get on well. Having a good relationship will lead to openness and trust, and ultimately, better outcomes. Remember, you’re putting your organisation in the hands of your consultant, so openness and trust are vital. And that starts with a good relationship.
You may well choose a consultant based on your own experience or on recommendation from a trusted contact but taking the time to objectively appraise a consultant against the above criteria can be very helpful. If you’ve never used a consultant or consulting firm before, it’s common to ask for a number of consultants or consulting firms to put proposals in for the work. Each may tackle your issue from different angles, and you may find that one particular approach is an ideal fit for your organisation. Ultimately, as well as objective expertise, you’re looking for the right mix of enthusiasm, authenticity, creative thinking, and investment of energy in your business. Looking for the above 5 traits in your consultant can go a long way to achieving the result you’re looking for.