Hiring Consultants – an ebook on selecting and contracting consultants

When do we need consultants

Performance measures help the managers of organisations to monitor performance and highlight problems within their areas that need attention. Problems in organisations tend to show through as symptoms in performance that result in deviations away from a desired norm. Symptoms show up as a change from an expected measure or just from a feeling of unease that some aspect of the business is not going well. Perhaps an environmental issue such as poor communications is suspected to be causing a problem that can be later traced back to some behavioural problem in a group or individual deep within the organisation – and far from where the symptom was felt.
Problems and their symptoms can occur at all levels of analysis within an organisation. From the Board Room via divisions, departments, groups and right down to individuals. Some types of problem occur in unexpected ways or appear suddenly such as the case of a competitor launching a new product that competes with your own but does so more effectively, cheaper and with better service. Or a sudden crisis blows up that has to be reacted to such as the credit crunch. What tends to happen in such areas is the problem is seen is a deviation in some form of qualitative or quantitative measure and this deviation can occur at some distance from the source of the problem itself. It is these symptoms that point to a problem deep within the organisation and give us the entry point to the diagnostic stage where the actual issue is pinpointed, the cause identified and solution proposed.
Some typical problems and symptoms to look would be:

  • High or increasing absenteeism.
  • Internal conflicts and tension between departments or individuals.
  • Missed project deadlines or cost overruns.
  • Performance and competitive symptoms such as:
  • Falling market share overall.
  • Declining profitability within certain product groups.
  • Increases in numbers of calls at the service centre.
  • Increasing waiting times as the accident and emergency department.

A common error is to not distinguish a problem from its symptoms, or to confuse a potential solution as the problem. For example it is common to identify Outsourcing a department as a problem to be addressed rather than a potential solution to some yet not understood problem. Also when an issue surfaces if it looks similar to one solved before managers and consultants will look for the cause of the problem close to where the symptom is occurring or to confuse the symptom with the problem and treat that rather then the underlying cause.
It is also common to assume that what worked last time will do as well now and the same solutions are proposed time and time again with ever diminishing returns. Research has shown different problems can manifest themselves in similar ways in terms of symptoms (such as declining market share). What can be seen as a symptom pointing to a specific local problem may only be a consequence of a much greater and broader issue in the organisation (such as a poor product development process resulting in product obsolescence hence market decline).
These sorts of effects can result in a false diagnosis of the problem and the potential over steering of a consultant during the initial assignment stages towards a particular given solution prior to any diagnosis being done. The problem is perceived as so evident that further diagnosis is redundant and a waste of money. Consultants will refer to this initial problem statement as the evoked problem. This is typically what would be described by the client to the consultant during the first meeting as the problem that must be looked at and good consultants use this to probe the problem space further whilst suspending judgement until at least some preliminary work has been done to identify the problem.
Clients should allow for this and treat with some suspicion any consultant who jumps straight away at the evoked definition of the problem or injects statements such as this problem is known, we have seen it before etc. – This is just demonstrating a simplistic understanding and is a danger sign that this consultant will be unsuitable.


The creation of an effective internal website

How to set up an effective internal website?

Self-service take-up

A lot of money is invested by companies on implementing internal web sites, developing HR for the intranet to facilitate employee and management ‘self-service’. The aim is often to increase employee understanding of company goals and procedures and reduce workload on key personnel, enabling these personnel to become more strategic. Furthermore intranets can provide a greater degree of flexibility for individuals and groups as well as assist in the creation of a ‘learning organization’. However, despite the potential benefits to both the individual and the organization, utilization of these systems is generally low. So how can we get employees motivated to use self-service websites?

7 Best Practice Tips:

  1. Make sure each business area or department on the intranet are involved in the design, implementation and evolution of their web sections. Better still, ensure they plan and define their expectations and use of the web to ensure goal attainment. The system is far more likely to be effective if it is business needs driven.
  2. Ensure the end users are monitored and asked for feedback on the web sections and any changes – don’t forget though if you ask for feedback use it!
  3. Enthusiastic support from the very top is essential you need you people to think; ‘if the boss feels it is important then perhaps so should I’.
  4. All information on the web must be important, relevant to users jobs, and benefit them in their work. If you can include aspects of work that they must use or use because it is simpler (such as forms of ‘self-service’ vacation application or time recording), it will help increase usage.
  5. A searchable, easy to navigate, repository of information is essential – must also be up to date and current. Whilst care should be taken not to overload people with too much information, research shows staff can become more productive if they do have easy access on the intranet to a range of company documentation.
  6. Do ensure people are given recognition for any work published or pages developed on the web. This not only increases motivation but ensures changes can be communicated to the right person – which will increase accuracy and reliability.
  7. Technically the system must be fast, reliable, and easy to use. If staffs have to invest time finding information and/or struggle with the system, they will give up. There are detailed best practice guidelines for the technical development of websites available, which include use of color, format and content presentation. Which include use of color, format and content presentation, identifying new items, ensuring no broken links, and reducing the number of clicks/ease of navigation – Get a guide and stick to it

3 things to Avoid:

  1. Do not leave it all to the IT department to organize – it is usually a disaster. They can only take responsibility for the technical aspects, not motivating individuals or selling business practices. The strategic effectiveness of intranets will be badly affected if content and structure is left solely to IT.
  2. Do not assume that staff will start to use it in time, or after a short initial training course. They will need good reasons for using the system so be patient.
  3. Do not use as a general data repository or an uncontrolled mass-communication device. People suffering from information overload actually reduce the time and effort spent on the system and can miss the information that is valuable.

Developing these areas of best practice should enable your organization to be effective and ensure investment in intranets is not wasted.

So how is your internal intranet strategy going?


Does outsourcing cause jobs to be lost in the host country?

The evidence on this is actually mixed – in the United States studies have shown that in general outsourcing has a neutral effect on jobs if that outsourcing is done within the country. The types of jobs that are traditionally outsourced tend to fall into the range of low skilled or single skilled activities. Here we can think of typical clerical work or generic IT support – and it is in these areas that the structure of work is changing.

Some types of activities are quite easily outsourced to another company specializing in the tasks and who have backup or expertise should things go wrong. In this case when outsourcing involves moving the jobs to a new company the overall job level declines a little as efficiencies are sought and people are let go. However when the outsourcing involves off-shoring the jobs are actually moved outside the country boundaries. In this case the low skilled more repetitive jobs are moved to another country and those jobs within the country are effectively lost. And thus overall the job opportunities for that particular group of workers are reduced.

There is some evidence that if the outsourcing does achieve some sort of focus on value added resources or core competences there are increase job opportunities for those people involved in the coordination and management of the outsourced functions – and of course in the increased activity due to better overall economic performance. However this type of change in employment means that there is a shift away from repetitive low skilled tasks towards more high-level tasks demanding higher skill and education levels.

This can often mean that those people losing their jobs to outsourcing are sometimes not suitable for the new jobs created – and what one sees is a shift in overall profile of jobs within an industry. This is particularly important in situations where the workforce is essentially single skilled as in some industries in the UK. One aspect of this reduction in low skilled repetitive tasks is the loss of entry-level jobs, especially in information technology. In this case the entry-level jobs (typically given to new graduates) are lost and moved to the off-shoring country. This reduction in entry-level jobs has a short and long-term impact. In the short term the jobs are not available for graduate entries and in the long term the availability of people with organizational experience moving through the organization to take senior management positions is inhibited. What this means is the removal of entry-level jobs could have an impact on future senior management availability-the people are simply not there who have learned the ropes and come up through the mill and have developed a deep understanding of company processes and procedures.

The evidence is mixed and the jury is still of out whether outsourcing and off shoring cause reduction in job levels. There seems to be a change in job mix with a reduction of single skilled and entry-level jobs especially for new graduates and this longer term reduction in the available pool of experienced workers to actually run departments such as information technology will have impacts for the knowledge capital of organizations.

This means that we have to consider carefully as a country the long term impacts of outsourcing especially off-shoring in terms of the job opportunities given to younger people as they leave university. As well as the shift in employment patterns between lower skilled repetitive jobs (which are typically occupied by women for example in part-time jobs) – this could mean that specific sectors of society are effected differentially in the changing patterns of employment relations. The burden of outsourcing will fall on those workers least able to cope – the part-time, women workers and entry level employees.

see also…
Levine, L., (2011), Offshoring (or Offshore Outsourcing) and Job Loss Among U.S. Workers, Congressional Research Service
Jensen, P., Kirkegaard, J., Laugesen, N., (2009) Beyond job losses – The net effects of offshoring and inshoring on employment in the Danish economy, Strategic Outsourcing vol 2 no. 2