The Case for Consultants – Part 1

There are almost as many opinions about using technical consultants as there are consultants, and there are almost as many consultants as there are possibilities for using them. Virtually every professional discipline has consultants in one form or another. In this day of downsizing, right-sizing, lean manufacturing and lean organizations, there is more and more pressure on employers to do more with less, and more pressure on employees to do more in less time. While there can be multiple reasons for this situation, the most common one is The Bottom Line. Gone are the days when companies hired people, who stayed for 30 years, working their way up through the organization and mentoring those that followed, building an internal talent and knowledge pool that stayed with the company. Today both employees and employers see things differently than before. Technology changes rapidly, and big organizations can’t always respond as quickly as they would like to, especially when everyone’s plate is already overflowing. Plus, employers add and drop employees as needed to meet overall business objectives, and employees move on quickly to new opportunities. The result is that much of the internal experience base that sustained companies before no longer exits.

Enter the consultant. Gone are the days when a consultant was “someone who borrows your watch so he can tell you what time it is”. Consultants today are mostly experienced industry professionals, and are more like true professional hired hands. In many instances, they bring with them the experience and talents that a company lacks, or has lost. As one example, a consultant can be brought in on short notice to handle a special project or need (in far less time than trying to hire someone with the skillet you need). They get up to speed quickly, they focus on the project at hand, and then they leave when the project is completed. The company gets the results they want without sacrificing existing projects or payroll; there are no benefits to worry about, and little or no impact to existing work space or routines. As another example, a company may be lacking a particular talent, say, packaging development, and they do not have the workload or the budget to justify bringing on a full-time professional to do the job. Or perhaps there’s a new product or a new package needed quickly, and is one that the existing department people are unfamiliar with. Hiring a consultant, either on an hourly or retained contract basis, could be the ideal solution. You only hire the consultant for the job that needs to be done. It’s the same concept as leasing a car – you pay for what you use, then part ways when you’re done with it. Plus, consultants usually hit a different spot in the company books than employees do, so their costs are virtual write-offs, and as stated earlier, the company does not have to provide any perquisites or benefits. The consultant is happy working for him/herself, and a good one will have his own insurance and equipment. Everyone wins. training

In addition to the solo specialized consultant, there are also formal and informal consultant alliances, as well as search firms and consulting companies, that have been formed to bring consultants of varying talents together. (In addition, there are websites where individuals and companies on both sides can sign up and post or reply to opportunities. These will be discussed further in Part 2.) These alliances can be very beneficial, especially for larger companies that plan to use consultants on a regular basis. There are consulting groups that focus on one area of expertise (architecture, packaging, etc.), and there are others who have a much larger scope and who maintain a large roster of talented individuals that can be tapped as required for almost any need. The disadvantage of this kind of organization is that the fees a company is charged will likely be much higher than for an individual consultant or small alliance, but the advantage is that their larger roster of talent gives the hiring company access to a much wider array of talent. There’s a lot to be said for either approach, but the end result is the same: the company gets their needs fulfilled quickly and efficiently.

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