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Why You Should Use Consultants

Part two in a "Siriusly Speaking" series.

Last month I explained why, in many instances, you simply should not use management consultants.

But is that the whole story? Surely they have some qualities worth paying for?

So let me give you three reasons why you should, in fact, use management consultants.

  • They can see the wood, not just the trees

An ability to see the bigger picture is often lacking in public sector bodies. This is inevitable as all public sector organisations are, to some degree, driven by political agendas. These agendas can often be unhelpfully short term, tied to specific targets and miss the longer term strategic purpose of the organisation.

You can see how this short termism can happen. How focused on the 'bigger picture' or strategic direction can your senior staff be when they are worried about the daily headlines and operational chaos that often ensues when targets are missed. Using wholly independent resources to help keep focused on the longer term strategic priorities can make real sense in such situations. Consultants are not tied by short term priorities alone: they can keep their eyes on the end game, and to be blunt they don’t have to worry about targets and headlines. They can see the strategy and make it happen.

  • They are cheap

I realise that some of you will have dropped your coffee at this point! But consultants, if properly used and with sound contracts, offer fantastic value. Flexible, short term, without any need for sick pay, pensions, annual leave or training. And no long term revenue commitment.

They can add capacity when you need it and be gone when you don’t. Whether related to customer demand (for example, the urgent requirements to complete a strategic business case for the board and commissioners), processes which are based on cyclical timescales (the commissioning process, annual accounts preparation, completion of annual returns such as the Information Governance Toolkit) or simply addressing seasonal variations in staff annual leave. A good external consultant who can be deployed (often at short notice) to help manage peaks in activity or troughs in resource availability is worth their weight in payroll. Overtime is expensive and inefficient, and agency staff often appear to be the worst of both worlds.

  • They are experts.

All too often we see a real lack of expertise for a particular task or project. The very nature of projects is that they are time-limited activities which bring together disparate resources from multi-disciplinary teams. These teams are often made up of people who either have the skills but not the time - or have the time but not the skills. Neither approach works. But using a specialist with the expertise and the time (because you are paying for it!) is often a better solution. Alternatively an injection of additional resource with the right skills and experience to lead or bolster the internal time-pressed team can make a real and lasting impact on complex projects and programmes.

In summary, when I used to work in my NHS career job, I always strived to deliver customer-focused and efficient services. I was often met with the response that 'this is how we have always done things', or 'it is too hard to make any changes round here', or occasionally 'I know you are the service director but I don't want to do it that way'.

Frustrating as that was, I usually understood there were reasons for resisting my way of doing things. So after a while I started asking a very simple question: 'if this was your business what would I do?'. On most occasions this led to some reflection and a change of heart.

Now, as an external consultant I am in the privileged position of being able to say 'this is my business - if I were you this is what I would do'. This is one of the greatest benefits of using external expertise: to rethink the way things have always been done and design improved processes and service which deliver genuine benefits to the real customers of the NHS - patients, carers and their families.

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