Three Comments About Consultants That Tick Me Off!
Over 17 years as an parking operator and now 16 years as an industry consultant, I have commonly heard things such as: “I can’t afford a consultant.” “Consultants consult because they can’t do.” “Consultants tell me what I want to hear.”
Each of those criticisms might have been experienced by you or someone you know, but it certainly is not an accurate representation of the consulting segment of our industry.
Following 2 paragraphs verbatim from Wikipedia; have tweaked and attributed:
A consultant (from the Latin consultare, meaning “to discuss”) is a professional who provides expert advice in a particular area. As also noted in Wikipedia, “consulting guru Peter Block defines a consultant as ‘someone who has influence over an individual, group or organization, but who has no direct authority to implement changes.’ He contrasts this with a surrogate manager, who is a person who ‘acts on behalf of, or in place of, a manager.’”
“The key difference is that a consultant never makes decisions for the individual or group, whereas a surrogate manager does,” according to the Wikipedia entry, which goes on to say: “The overall impact of a consultant is that clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the … consultant
Consultants in the parking industry are a varied bunch and an often misunderstood bunch. We have engineering and architectural firms that are owned by, and have a stable of, people with specific degrees in one or several of the specialties represented by these firms.
If you are building or renovating a new structure, A&E firms are mandatory to go from a field full of weeds or crumbling concrete to a 600-space parking structure. As consultants, their roles and requirements are more clearly defined, so I have no real need to discuss them as a part of this article.
This article is about consultants — those people you should go to who have credentials based on their experience across the parking industry or in specific segments of the industry. This select group of people plays a vital role in knowledge-sharing and establishing policy, procedure and process standards for each of the various segments of our industry.
The comment that “consultants consult because they can’t do” has always really bothered me. Our industry, like every industry I have ever come in contact with, has people who end up between jobs. They have an expertise, but for whatever reason, they ended up out of their job before they found the next one. This segment has not been trained as consultants, but their prior job gave them experience in the industry, but not, however, necessarily experience in most of the skills required to be a good consultant.
They put their name out there as consultants, but really their hearts are in operations, so they never stay as consultants long enough to develop their skills before they are back into the segment and the job challenges that they know best.
My experience has been that consultants consult because they learn that their value is associated with their ability to evaluate processes across parking operations and combine this with their ability to communicate their observations and develop and communicate recommendations that might not be available from people who are too close to the operation.
Consultants that last, consult because they have the ability to evaluate and convey what they evaluate to their clients, and the skills required to survive as a consultant more closely match their skills than other jobs in the industry.
The comment “I can’t afford a consultant” also really bothers me. In my experience, the comment should be: “I can’t afford not to have a consultant.” I don’t believe I have ever done a job where I thought my company did not pay its way.
I have decided that that statement really means that I did not do a good job of planning and budgeting for consulting services; therefore, I can’t afford a consultant. My feeling is that if a consultant pays its way, then it should be budget neutral.
Almost every major corporation in America keeps consultants available to help steer them through forward-facing decisions that impact their products, service, customer interaction, employee training, and in understanding the role of ever-changing technology. When you are running a major parking company or university or a municipal parking operation, it’s just impossible to see and have expertise in the many industry-related issues that impact your operations.
Consultants have the opportunity to get an unbiased understanding of the products you use and the processes you use to conduct business every day. They get to see how other companies use or create new processes. They get a unique look at your customers, who they are and what they really want. And they get a truly unbiased look at how you are viewed in your industry — by your customers, suppliers and employees.
A big or even a small parking company, or a university, municipal, hospital or airport parking operation, or any of the other segments of
our industry, cannot afford to have a quality parking consultant or
several consultants representing different specialties available to call when needed.
The other comment I often hear is, “Consultants tell me what I want to hear.” If that is the case, I can only blame the person doing the hiring of the consultant.
There have certainly been times when I have had the impression that the client only wanted me to confirm their opinion, even if I did not believe their opinion was correct. In this case, a quality consultant will discuss with the client their opinion based on the consultant’s experiences and findings.
In the end, as stated at the beginning of this article, the decisions made from the consultant’s work belong to the client. The consultant may be asked to support the client’s decision, so the consultant has to make the business and/or ethical decision on where to stand.
From observations, the general opinion is that clients in our industry are not using consultants at the level that they should. We are in an industry that is changing so rapidly that the only way for an organization to stay on top of running their business in this changing environment, it should be imperative to have a consultant close at hand.
As companies and institutions are trying to make every dollar count, it seems consultants should be at the top of their list, instead of at the bottom. Remember, as noted at the start of this article, managers or employees you have to pay every day; consultants, however, you pay for only what they deliver, and you can hire them to do small, specific, select jobs.
In a follow-up article, I will discuss what I believe organizations and institutions in the parking industry are missing by not hiring consultants; what you look for in hiring a consultant that can most closely help you achieve your goals; what are the different tasks a consultant can do for you; what you should expect in deliverables; and how best to use a consultant in your organization.
I truly believe that if the clients fully understand the role and potential value of a consultant, understand how to evaluate what qualities to look for in a consultant, how to match a consultant to the job, and finally how to get from the consultant a deliverable that will add value to your organization, then consultants can become a valuable part of your business plan.
Clyde Wilson, Founder of The Parking Network, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from November, 2012