By Rick Kleyn
This month’s editorial has called for a lot of introspection on my part. I have been challenged to put forward a balanced view of the use of consultants in the poultry industry. Whichever angle I take in a column like this, someone is bound to say, “it’s a pity that he does not practice what he preaches”. Please accept my flaws for what they are, flaws.
It is easy enough to make comments such as he puts the “con” back into consultant, but the reality is that consultants form an integral part of today’s business environment, be it in the poultry industry or elsewhere. Those individuals whose job description would be included under the title of consultant would include nutritionists, veterinarians, accounts, human resource experts or any number of specialist disciplines.
Having just stated that consultants and consultancy have become an integral part of modern business it is probably worth examining some of the reasons why this trend has emerged. Increasingly, the levels of expertise required in business and agriculture have lead to a demand for specialist skills. This has occurred at a time when some companies have been “re-engineered” and when many state institutions have undergone structural change. Not only has this lead to a decrease of skills within the various organisations, but it has also led to an increase in the number of people starting their own consultancy practices. Sadly, a large number of organisations have failed to “bring on” young professionals to fulfil their future skills requirements. As a result of these and other factors both a demand for consultants and a pool of available consultants have arisen. It is now often more cost effective to use an experienced contractor (consultant) than it is to employ inexperienced staff who still need to be trained.
At this point it is would perhaps be a good idea to define exactly who or what a consultant is. The sales staff of many companies are often called consultants, as are the retirees working for their old firms to supplement their pensions. However these are probably not the people that we envisage when we think about consultants. In truth, today’s consultant is likely to be an entrepreneur with a high level of technical and other skills. He or she will in all likelihood be a professional in that the skill involved in carrying out their work is predominantly mental or intellectual, rather than physical or manual. Ideally this individual will be properly qualified and registered with an appropriate professional body. He or she will be expected to abide by a code of ethics and conduct.
Regardless of an individual’s field of expertise, all consultants have a single common attribute. Namely, we are all driven by economic forces and fuelled by money. We exist only because we can add value to both our clients company and to our own organisations.
Before a producer even thinks about employing consultants there are a number of critical questions that they need to answer. Firstly, ask yourself if you are a team player and whether you are willing to work with and share information with consultants? Secondly, if you expect a miracle cure to your problems, without having clear goals as to how to achieve this cure, you should probably not engage the services of a consultant. Lastly, are you willing to pay for advice, even if you may decide against implementing it?
Who you choose to use as a consultant is another issue in itself. Obviously consultants are mostly chosen for their reputations but they are personal and commercial reasons why this may or may not be the case. Remember that it is essential for both parties to be happy with the relationship.
Unfortunately, wherever money is involved the question of ethics and professionalism are likely to be raised. Even if an individual has all the knowledge “known to man” he or she still needs to be professional. We all know that a professional is only as good as his or her reputation, which is built up from a number of components. These include ethical conduct and integrity, honesty and sincerity, and even in this day and age, loyalty and honor. Reputations are built up through all aspects of our interaction with our clients, be they technical or scientific, financial or commercial or even social.
There are numerous areas in the average consulting intervention where ethical conduct can and is often an issue. It begins with simple matters such as not overstating your qualifications or not taking on work that you are not qualified, skilled or experienced enough to do. You will be privy to information that could be used by your client’s competitors and you will need to avoid divulging confidential information within the clients firm. On a more serious note you may be pressured to support the illegal or immoral (unethical) actions of a client or be asked to make false or misleading statements in support of a business, claim or product.
Possibly the thorniest issue with regards ethics has to do with has to do with money. This begins with normal business practices, such as how fees are set and paid for, but it can be more complicated than this. If a consultant recommends products or services from which he or she may profit directly questions will always be asked. Transparency in this regard is of paramount importance, however it is far easier to avoid the situation completely by deciding early on in your career if you are a consultant or a trader. In my experience very few people can do both successfully and retain their integrity.
The Golden Rule for any ethical dilemma is simple. Never put yourself into a position where your conduct can be questioned! Regardless of your conduct, if you are perceived to be unethical it is as good as the real thing.
Consultants and consultancy are here to stay. There will always be room in our industry for qualified, ethical professionals. The effectiveness of consulting interventions often has more to do with the people involved rather than the skill level of the consultant of for that matter the client. Personal relationships and ethical behaviour will always drive the long-term client/ consultant relationship. Either party can be guilty of misbehaving. Although most professional organisations do have prescribed codes of conduct, these will never go far enough. Consultants will only be reputable if they embrace all of the normal moral and legal standards of our society. Remember the words of Warren Buffet “It takes years to build a reputation – and five minutes to ruin it.”