The world of consulting is exceptionally broad. Today’s companies rely on consultants in nearly every industry, from healthcare to agriculture. While this can be daunting for those wondering how to become a management consultant or grow a consulting business, there are certain key skills all good consultants share.
In this blog, we’ll highlight seven must-have consulting skills in 2021. Whether you’re starting from scratch or simply brushing up on the fundamentals, these tips can go a long way.
1. Enjoy problem solving.
The goal of a consulting project isn’t to maintain the status quo. If you’re brought on by a client, you’re there to solve a problem—or prevent a future one.
Perhaps the number one consulting skill, then, is critical thinking. Your client will expect you to tackle complex problems plaguing their business. It’s possible they’ve started the pre-work and have a direction in mind. Or, they may rely on you to jumpstart the discussion.
Regardless, your job as a consultant is to propose solutions to these critical issues. To develop these proposals, you’ll need to gather data. Learn the ins and outs of the client organization, read up on market trends, research competitors, and perform data analyses where necessary.
Through it all, keep a level head. Don’t get so bogged down in the finer details that you lose sight of the bigger picture. Have a vision, make sure it’s well-researched, and stick to it.
2. Make the most of presentations.
Of course, it’s not enough to have a solid proposal. You’ll also need to prepare and share your findings with your client. To ensure your ideas hold up under scrutiny, you’ll want to invest in your presentation skills.
When building a presentation deck, make sure each slide adheres to a unified style. Use fonts and colors that fit the tone of the meeting. Even include your firm’s logo and branding, where appropriate. Incorporate screenshots from consulting software when appropriate.
Also keep your audience in mind. If your project team has multiple stakeholders, look for ways to keep these stakeholders engaged. Anticipate their feedback, and prepare answers that will help you earn their support.
When it comes time to present, articulate your ideas with clarity and precision. Keep your points detailed yet targeted. Pay attention to your posture, tone, and cadence. Through it all, keep in mind the story you’re telling and the data that backs it up.
3. Employ stellar communication skills.
Once you start implementing your proposals, you’ll want to document your actions and keep stakeholders in the loop. This starts with a strong communication strategy.
Plan a series of updates you’ll relay to the team. The frequency may vary based on the client’s needs. But whatever cadence you decide on, make sure it’s timely and consistent. The more in touch you are with your stakeholders, the easier it is to receive and act on critical feedback.
Also make sure you’re being candid with these updates. It’s tempting to limit what you share so as not to overwhelm your client. But in doing so, you risk understating an issue that could become a major blocker down the line. When in doubt, err on the side of transparency and honesty.
4. Be flexible.
When working on a consulting project, you’ll want to be flexible. You may agree on a timeline weeks or months in advance, thinking it’s set in stone. But things happen; your client’s needs change, so you’ll want to be prepared.
There are many reasons a project may change course. Your client may want to reassess the scope of the project or alter its focus. A team member may hit a roadblock, halting their workstream and slowing others. A project may even speed up, given the right circumstances.
Keep these scenarios in mind for any consulting job. It can be difficult to anticipate tight deadlines or long hours. But by going into engagements expecting the unexpected, you put yourself in the right headspace. More importantly, you convey to your client that you’re a team player.
5. Put your client first.
Having a team mentality is important when it comes to client relationships. You may have a preferred way of leading or communicating. But if you put these needs above your client’s, you’re doing them a disservice.
When weighing a decision, always think in terms of client benefit. Which choice will leave my client better off? Develop a keen understanding of your client’s needs. As mentioned before, these may change over time, so make sure you check in frequently.
Note that the best decision for a client isn’t always the decision they would make. Of course, you’ll want to keep clients happy whenever possible. But an experienced consultant knows when to trust the data—even if the results aren’t popular.
By having healthy conflict, you challenge your client to consider new lines of thinking. Done correctly, you ensure they make calculated decisions with their best interests in mind.
6. Demonstrate clear value.
When guiding your client through business problems, make sure to demonstrate the value of your services. Find a way to quantify the results of each decision made—and celebrate major wins.
You could have all the charisma in the world. You could also be on good terms with the project stakeholders. But if you can’t convey how your actions have or will impact the bottom line, that charm won’t matter.
When looking to demonstrate value, data will be your best friend. Together with your client, agree on the key performance indicators that’ll determine success or failure for the project. From there, see that you have the right data collection tools to measure these KPIs.
At various project checkpoints, examine the data. If you’ve been delivering value to your client, you’ll be able to show this through these established KPIs. Remember to present these figures with confidence, clarity, and purpose.
7. Be a change management expert.
One of the most complicated challenges you’ll tackle as a consultant is change management. From M&As to rightsizing and restructuring, organizations are constantly evolving. These changes often come quickly and with little warning to employees.
During these stressful scenarios, you’ll serve as a crucial liaison between your client and their workforce. It’ll be up to you to help managers and teams process, communicate, and adapt to change. You’ll also need to ensure these shakeups don’t disrupt employee engagement or the company culture.
In crises like COVID-19 where the stakes are especially high, be an expert your clients can lean on. Our Surviving an Economic Downturn with Talent Optimization guide will give you actionable insights you can bring back to your clients. Empower them to make tough decisions about their strategy and workforce—so they can emerge stronger.
Make consulting work easier with these tips.
Consulting jobs can be daunting even for established firms. We hope these tips help you better prepare for future engagements—so you can advise your clients with confidence.
How PI can help
You may be focused on your clients’ needs right now, but even the best consultants take time to invest in themselves. Whether you’re looking to start your own business or take your practice to the next level, it helps to have the right support.
PI’s free partner program is designed to help you take that next step. Get trained in a powerful consulting framework—talent optimization—and add a new level of value and data to your engagements.