The Many Hats of a Consultant: What Consultants Can and Can’t Do

The Many Hats of a Consultant: What Consultants Can and Can’t Do

Whenever there’s a problem in the workplace or project that you can’t seem to solve on your own, or you can’t figure out whether you’re taking the right steps towards your goal, the first thing that might come to mind is to hire a consultant. The problem, however, arises when business owners, CEOs, or other higher-ups don’t know exactly what a consultant can and can’t do.

Misunderstandings, mishaps, delays, and other issues are problems business owners face when dealing with a consultant. While a lack of competence on both sides and other factors could contribute to these problems, another reason why these issues occur is that business owners and CEOs expect consultants to step in and perform tasks that are beyond their scope of work.

Sometimes consultants are even asked to come in when the problem doesn’t require the help of a consultant at all, but a different kind of help.

This article is here to clear up these misconceptions once and for all, and to make sure that, when you hire a consultant, you know exactly what you’re in for.

What is a consultant?

As you can probably guess, the word “consultant” comes from the verb “to consult,” which is to seek information or advice from a professional or an expert in the field.

Therefore, a consultant is an expert in a specific industry who offers advice, recommendations, and suggestions as to what the right course of action in a particular problematic situation you should take.

You are then free to take their advice, or you don’t and move on to another solution.

Think of a consultant as an adviser who’s only there to offer solutions and suggestions based on their experience and knowledge in the industry.

It’s like asking a friend for their advice on a problem—your friend is only there to advise you, but they’re not there to act on the advice for you.

But unlike your typical friend, a consultant can actually go beyond their role of offering suggestions. However, it all depends on what you ask them to do and what you both agreed on in the contract. You can’t bring in a consultant to do a consultant’s work and then suddenly ask them to be more hands-on.

There needs to be a clear understanding between the two of you on which service you’re consultant will provide and which of them they won’t.

And so, if you’re expecting your consultant to get more involved with company processes, like implementing tasks, setting up strategies, and managing your employees, then you should essentially be asking your consultant—before setting up the contract—to set aside “the advisor” and bring forth the “surrogate manager.”

The different roles of a consultant.

As the title of this article states, consultants wear many hats, but they will only wear the one that fits the job and tasks you’re asking them to do. If you’re expecting them to take on more than one role, you should make that clear to them from the start.

A consultant could play three different roles. Aside from the Consultant, there’s also the Surrogate Manager, the Hands-on Trainer, and the Coach.

The Consultant (“The Advisor”)

This is the most basic role of a consultant, being an advisor.

This person expects to be brought in, assess the problems and issues going on in a particular part of the company, offers up suggestions, personal recommendations, and give advice on what needs to be done, and leaves.

Afterwards, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to follow on their advice or not.

But let’s say the manager responsible for applying the consultant’s recommendations isn’t competent in the tool or specific task the consultant suggested. You decide that it’s probably best if the consultant themselves become the implementer. It’s best if you

The consultant, then, switches hats and takes on the role of a surrogate manager.

The Surrogate Manager (“The Implementer”)

The difference between a manager and surrogate manager is just that the latter acts as a proxy until a full-time manager comes in to replace him or her. Other than that, they’re practically performing the roles and responsibilities of an acting manager.

The surrogate manager will implement, execute, and do whatever is necessary to move things forward and solve the issues at hand.

Keep in mind that the surrogate manager is still a surrogate; you will either provide the training necessary to sharpen your previous manager’s skills so that they can effectively do their jobs after the surrogate has done his or her job, or you quickly find a replacement for the position of manager before the contract with the surrogate manager expires.

But let’s say you reach this point in the article and realize you neither want a surrogate manager nor a consultant. You need someone who can offer advice and then show your manager how to apply that advice in the workplace, then the consultant becomes the Coach.

The Coach (“The Supervisor”)

Picture your average soccer coach or basketball coach. They aren’t really playing the game with you or even training you how to kick or dribble a ball, they’re guiding you and showing you how to win a game of soccer or basketball. During a game, they might use their whistle when they see you aren’t kicking the ball hard enough or when your aim isn’t right. That’s exactly how a business coach operates.

They don’t teach you but help you perform tasks and implement their suggestions more effectively. They nudge you when they see you aren’t doing something the right way and give you direction.

The consultant is still performing the role of an adviser, but they’re giving advice to your manager as they’re doing their job. You may consider the job of a coach as more “hands-on consulting” than just giving advice as a normal consultant would do.

Now what if you read about the consultant, the surrogate manager, and the coach and you think, “Actually, I need my consultant to be even more involved and teach my manager how to perform a specific task or use a certain tool instead of supervising him or her.”

If this is the case, then out comes the on-the-job.

The On-the-job Trainer (“The Helpful Guide”)

We’ve talked about coaches—both business and sports coaches—, and a trainer in a business setting is no different than the personal trainer you would get in a gym.

The personal trainer doesn’t only supervise you, but also teaches you how to use the equipment around the gym and makes sure you’re using them correctly.

An on-the-job trainer is someone who would give a traditional corporate training session to your manager or employees on how to perform a task or use a specific tool, and then—unlike a typical trainer—goes even further by making sure everything that was taught in class is correctly being applied outside of training.

So does your business need a consultant? And what “role” should you expect your consultant to play?

The answer to the first question is always. If you’re a business looking to scale faster and become global, then hiring a consultant isn’t an option anymore, it’s a must.

A consultant help reduce overhead expenses, disrupt your business, and push you to go out of your comfort zone. They’re also agile and quick on their feet when it comes to decision-making. They’ll help you drive your business forward so that you get the quick results you’ve been looking for.

But if you want this to work out between you and your future consultant, you need to understand exactly what kind of services (or “roles) you expect from a consultant by figuring out what your company really needs: What are the issues that you’re facing right now and in which department? Is your manager competent enough or do you think you might need the consultant to step in as a surrogate manager?

When you know what your company needs precisely to solve the problems that it’s facing and communicate that with the consultant beforehand in the contract, it makes the consultant’s job easier and more effective because they’ll know what they’re walking into.

A clear contract makes for a clear-headed consultant and a satisfied CEO