If you only have a hammer…

When you want to sell your house you obviously want to get the right price for it. So you start asking around how you could make it more valuable or at least more attractive. Suggestions are easily found and they will be quantified with the associated investment: the gardener will tell you to improve your front-yard, the interior decorator will offer to refurbish everything indoors, the real-estate agent will tell you about marketing opportunities and you can easily guess what the painter will offer. For all these experts life is simple: as they only have a proverbial hammer, they will identify your very unique problem as a nail.

In management consulting this issue is very similar although the underlying problems quite often are much more complex. Customers struggle with a complex set of challenges and when identifying potential candidates for external advice, they risk to pre-filter on the potential outcomes of a consultancy project: Lean Six Sigma experts will give a compelling story about operational excellence and how to improve processes; HR consultants will make the case how investing in employees will leverage the human capital in a company and management consultants will probably show how the strategy can be improved. Again: an expert with a limited tool-set will give you a predictable offer.

Open minded

But what if your challenges are more diffuse and it is less clear what expertise best addresses the underlying problems? How do you avoid that you limit the analysis by selecting a narrow focused consultant who is looking for a problem to which he can apply his ‘proven’ i.e. prefabricated solution? The answer is simple: find an expert with an open mind and ensure that the first step is the explicit assessment of what the follow up activities should be. Be open to the fact that the initial team doing the analysis may be replaced by the appropriate experts once the analysis shows a clear approach going forward. Obviously it helps to select a company with a broad range of expertise to avoid any bias towards that company’s ‘best practices’.

In some cases a predictable offer is exactly what you need. If your own analysis gives you clear guidance about the direction, selecting the expert in that specific field is the right thing to do. If after careful consideration your challenge has all the properties of a nail, ensure you get someone with a very good hammer and the skills to use it properly!