Working with a business consultant should be a rewarding experience. However, things can go wrong when expectations and reality do not meet. Many of our clients ask us what they can expect from the process, and this article is written to help you understand what to expect on the journey with us, and what our relationship will be like. Understanding the true nature of engaging external support should help ensure that you have a successful partnership and achieve your goals with minimum stress.
Why work with an external consultant
Firms work with an external consultant because they do not have the time and/or internal knowledge and experience to implement the desired change. Consultants are experts in their specific field, and utilising their services result in a faster and more cost-effective change in business operations.
The beginning of our relationship
Before any tangible change starts clients often get excited about the upcoming improvements to their business, wanting to know what is going to happen, how and when. However, once the change starts in earnest, they want everything to get done now, at once, and want to get back to work. Here is the first challenge in the relationship. Successful change takes time. Changing business operations can, and should, take between three months to twelve months depending on your requirements. You, your team, and your clients need time to learn and adapt to the new way of doing things.
Clarity Street has worked with many accounting firms and our experience has given us, and should give you, the confidence that we know change should be done in the right way and over the right amount of time. We encourage you to trust your consultant, as there are good reasons behind the why of what they do. If you are unsure, ask.
Questions is an interesting topic for consultants. As things start, naturally everything is new. There are an enormous number of questions - we know. Asking ten thousand questions about every button onscreen is only going to cause you stress and consume yours and our time (better spent implementing your changes), as you will learn what everything does in training. Your consultant knows what you need to know, and when you need to know it for the best experience. Having said that, getting extra help is also important.
Helping our clients achieve success is as important to us as your client's success is to you. Like you, we support a variety of clients, and to do so effectively we have built Clarity Assist, an online support site of help articles, ticket lodgement and weekly online training. With this valuable tool, we help you in the fastest way possible, with everything properly tracked.
Why did we build this? Because, like you, we can't answer everyone's questions in five minutes. We respond as quickly as we can, just like you.
Implementation & Repair
As your project passes the first stages into where you see change taking place, we warn you this is where false expectations and staff frustration will be at its highest. You and your staff can get confused about which system to use, how to use it, and why they are even changing in the first place. This is normal change behaviour where we all commonly pass through these six phases:
1. Current – Satisfaction / Competency
2. Denial - of Change
3. Resistance - to Change
4. Exploration - of the new
5. Hope - things are looking better
6. Commitment - things are better (Satisfaction and Competency)
Be aware that you will need to coach your staff (and clients) through this change and explain the reason for the change. We, your consultant, can explain what is going to change, but the why explanation is yours.
The biggest false expectation during the implementation phase is that your consultant will do everything for you. Not the case. Your consultant works with you, on your project, to roll out your changes. Your consultant will supply guidance, explanations, recommendations and often a lot of grunt work in making those changes happen. However, they will not do all of it. Firms often falsely assume that the consultant will go away, apply a bit of magic, and come back with it all done. Unfortunately, not (as much as we consultants would like it to be). A consultant will usually do the bulk of the heavy lifting of your project, but there will always be somewhere between five and twenty percent of the work your Project Champion will need to coordinate. Working together we achieve the best outcome.
The second biggest false expectation is that your staff will absorb all the training and be fine. No - they won't. In our experience, knowledge retention by staff is maximised when business owners have explained the why of change, set due dates, and fostered autonomy to practice, make mistakes, learn, and grow. You will have mixed reactions to your changes, some early adopters, some late adopters. Getting your early adopters to champion through the change makes a significant difference, but the business owner is the Captain of the team, and the Captain must lead.
There are lots of moving parts to your projects, so an integrated and staged approach in implementation and learning are essential. Your team need to get used to new software and new processes. Your clients potentially need to learn new engagement, eSigning and payment solutions. None of which is difficult or daunting, if done slowly, strategically, and consciously.
Once everything is implemented and the new software is becoming part of the daily routine, you and your staff will start learning more about the systems, and start asking more questions again. One of the most frequent questions we get asked is on the topic of 'best practice'. Clients ask if the software is ‘best practice’, the processes are ‘best practice', or the business structure is ‘best practice’.
While the concept of best practice is subjective, that does not mean that all approaches are equal. Clarity Street work with you to discover and implement your ‘best practice’, which is what is going to work best for you and the why, taking a holistic view. What you choose to adopt is always your choice, and you never have to follow our advice. However, once you have signed off on what you want, it is from here our relationship can get a bit rocky.
As clients get to know new software well, they may disagree with some of our suggestions. This process is a normal part of the exploration phase. However, the reason you engaged a consultant in the first place was to provide you with best practice recommendations for you based on our expertise, knowledge, and your explanations of your business. We encourage you to trust in the change process and all will be revealed.
We, your consultant, will always walk with you on your journey. Remember though, we work with you, not for you. We will develop a strong working relationship and become close colleagues, but our relationship will, and must, change. You, as the business owner, are ultimately responsible for your new operations. You always oversee your systems, processes, procedures, and team. Our partnership with you, while rewarding, always evolves and changes as your changes comes to fruition. We arm you with tools, provide training on those tools, and help develop your autonomy so that we step aside knowing you have what you need to thrive. Clarity Assist is here to support you in the next stage of your journey.
If we both understand and master the difference between expectation and reality, we will have a rewarding time together during this exciting time for your business.
If you have any questions, feel free to send us a message!
Clarity Street was conceived from years of engaging with Accounting firms on a daily basis and a constant desire to make Accounting firms & SME’s more efficient and profitable.