There is a myriad of different consultants out there. Finance consultants, strategy consultants, M&A consultants, legal consultants, IT consultants, dog consultants, and influencer consultants. One could basically just put consultant in front of a verb or noun, and you got yourself a profession within advisory services. With such a varied application however, one cannot evade to wonder if the word has become too widely used, or perhaps wrongly used. Especially since there are thousands of different providers of consultants available. Some might question whether it is an issue worth of concern at all, but in this article, we would like to discuss some implications it can have.
What is a consultant?
There are varied opinions on consultants, which is perhaps why there are quite humorous definitions of the profession in initial searches. For example, someone who uses your
wife’s watch, tells you the time, and then charges you for it. The Cambridge Dictionary however defines a consultant as someonewho is paid to give expert advice or training on a particular subject. The word advice is reappearing in other definitions and therefore a word one can consider to be a crucial component. The value of a consultant therefore lies in what advice he or she gives or brings to the table.
Implications for the business
With a common ground in how we define a consultant we can begin to look for possible issues if the word is used wrongly, which is perhaps of most concern and not whether it is used too widely. After all, as long as you provide advice within a subject you could call yourself a consultant. Whilst a dog consultant might seem laughable at first, one quickly come to think of the dog whisperer Ceasar Milan and how he through advice and training gets the most obnoxious dogs to become submissive and loyal companions. As for influencer consultants, old schoolers complaining about influencer not being a real profession just got to accept that this is the world we live in now and that times are changing. Sorry boomers.
If the word consultant is used wrongly what are the potential issues then? In all its simplicity we would argue it potentially creates a mismatch of expectations. Some clients might just expect someone to fill a position for a shorter period of time i.e. interim projects. Others could expect more than that, which could be not only filling a position but also providing important advice and training for the client to improve its business. Different expectations could then lead to unsatisfactory results, which could impact the view on using consultants overall.
In defence of the consultant
Also, if one is allowed to defend the profession, a misuse of the word could possibly dilute the meaning and status of a consultant. Some firms that today call themselves consultancy companies would traditionally be categorized into staffing companies. They are providing personnel for interim projects, but the advisory part we have discussed to be important to the concept of a consultant is non-existent. Are they really providing consultants then or is it something else? Interim projects are not less valued however, on the contrary.
A consultant gladly executes interim projects. It is an opportunity for the consultant to submerge in the actual environment and provide valuable advice on how to improve processes at the client. In that way, providing more value than just filling a vacant cubicle. This also implies that there is room for every consultant to reflect upon his or her contribution to the client, am I consulting or just filling a vacancy?
If we were to return to the first, more humorous definition of a consultant: someone who uses your wife´s watch, tells you the time and then charges you for it, it might be a definition more suitable for just filling a vacancy. A definition for the consultant however (adjusted for modern gender roles) would in comparison be someone who uses your significant other´s dysfunctional watch, give advice and training on how to fix it in order to tell the time, and then charges you for it.