Partnering with Clients: Building Internal Consulting Capability

September 2013
Issue 35

Thomas E. O'Rourke by Thomas E. O’Rourke

Editor’s Note: Tom O’Rourke recently joined St. Charles Consulting Group as Managing Director of its Human Capital Services and Transformation Practice. Tom had been President and CEO of Connolly Clarke – a human capital advisory firm, which combined with St. Charles in August 2013.

As our name suggests, St. Charles Consulting Group is a firm known for its consulting capabilities, and we are engaged by many different organizations as external consultants to assist with a variety of significant projects. With this business orientation, it may seem odd that I am a strong proponent of internal consultants.

One might think that, if a company has a team of internal consultants, there is not a compelling need to bring talent in from outside the organization to help drive important projects or initiatives. In fact, I have found in many cases that the opposite is true – organizations that embrace a consulting mindset in general tend to understand more clearly what talents are required to execute effectively and are not hesitant to pull in outside skills to supplement internal resources when needed. More importantly, very often the work of external consultants needs to be sustained after the consulting project is officially concluded, and internal consultants are often best suited to provide this ongoing support.

With this backdrop, I very much encourage companies to build up their internal consulting capabilities, and this article is meant to provide some insights on this important function.

AIMC defines internal consultant

The Association of Internal Management Consulting (AIMC) is the premier organization dedicated to helping its organizational members build their internal consulting functions, offerings, capabilities, and competencies (see AIMC has outlined the key attributes of an “internal consultant” as one who:

  • Brings specialized management consulting expertise to improve the bottom-line performance of the company
  • Works within the corporate structure to resolve business issues and implement solutions in areas that include organizational effectiveness/development, strategic planning, or process improvement
  • Serves as a change agent, coach, educator, or facilitator within the company
  • Supports internal clients in a shared service type organization (such as human resources, training & development, information technology, finance, quality management, health & safety, and environmental services)
  • Faces a continuing challenge to stay up-to-date with new professional developments and practices

In order to bring rigor to defining the knowledge and skill sets that internal consultants need to perform well along these various lines of activity, I have worked closely with AIMC to co-develop an internal consulting competency model, and there is now a well-dimensioned framework for thinking about this important role. It is organized around the following competency cornerstones:

  • Client service focus
  • Change management
  • Management consulting skills
  • Business acumen
  • Professional impact
  • Coaching
  • Project management
  • Business process optimization

Organizations have different points of view on internal consulting competencies, but those shown here tend to be the ones that show up most often in internal consulting competency models (and were validated by members of the AIMC). This high-level framework and the supporting detail establish a great common foundation for capability building among internal consultants.

External consultants transfer knowledge

As organizations commit to grow their internal consulting offerings, a corresponding focus is required on building internal consulting capabilities. One meaningful way to do this is to foster a partnering relationship between external consultants and internal consultants on specific project initiatives.

Internal consultants and external consultants can and do work effectively together – with a common goal of project or initiative success. Internal consultants may lead consulting project teams, or they may act as organizational subject matter experts embedded within the consulting teams. Either way, capable internal resources are often prerequisite to effective project design and implementation.

I believe it is incumbent upon the external consultant who is truly committed to client success to engage and partner with those serving in internal consulting roles. Externals should deliberately transfer knowledge transfer on their tools and methodologies. If desired, they should also provide training on core consulting competencies. In addition, they can often build a distinct stream of work into their project plans that focuses on client capability development and ownership through project goal setting, coaching, and on-the-job training.

In short, I believe that effective external consultants take knowledge transfer to internal consultants very seriously – as a critical component of their client commitment. Essentially, they partner with internal client resources as if they were their own firm members. That is the foundation for true partnering and, ultimately, project success is contingent upon the capability of the collective team. This is the kind of relationship that best serves the client’s short- and long-term interests.

A cautionary word about “Insultants”

It is important to recognize the difference between the “Consultant” and the “Insultant.” A “Consultant” partners with the client, listens, and collaborates with the client to reach the right business solution. The “Insultant,” on the other hand, purports to already have the answers, summarily dismisses the client’s point of view, “checks the box,” and has limited interest in the sustainability of client success or internal consulting capability development. You have all probably had an experience with the “Insultant.” They are not too hard to identify – and typically do not get invited back!

For more information on internal consultants, the relationship between external consultants and internal consultants, and the AIMC competency model for internal consulting, contact Tom O’Rourke.

Next month:

Meet RapidMapper™

For nearly a year, St. Charles Consulting Group has quietly been developing RapidMapper™ – a brand new tool that greatly simplifies the design/redesign of business processes. RapidMapper™ has been built as a plug-in to SharePoint that takes advantage of all the resource sharing power of SharePoint without requiring hands-on SharePoint knowledge, advanced technology skills, or active involvement from the IT department. As such, RapidMapper™ not only simplifies business process design (by those responsible for the process), but it also supports the housing of process-related resources (such as guidance, training, demonstration videos, etc.) in the tool itself, putting knowledge directly into the flow of work. Next month you will have the opportunity to meet RapidMapper™ officially in an article by its co-designers, Bob Hiebeler and Shawn Eckert. Stay tuned to exciting developments in this arena.