On many occasions, a consultant acts as a personal trainer who uses his privileged outside view to recommend and instill a particular style of work that leads to improvements. When it comes to projects involving implementation of quality management systems, the trainer has the goal of getting his students to adopt the eight principles in the ISO 9000 program: customer focus, leadership, participation by personnel, focusing on processes, focusing on the management system, making continuous improvements, focusing on the facts during decision making, and building relationships with suppliers that are mutually beneficial.
Those trainers who do a better job of transmitting those principles provide more benefits to their clients, according to a study, “Consultancies in Spain: Consult or instill principles?” published in Universia Business Review. The authors of the study, Frederic Marimon Viadiu, professor at the International University of Catalonia; Martí Casadesús Fa, of the University of Gerona, and Iñaki Heras Saizarbitoria at the Euskal Herriko Unibersitatea [the University of the Basque Country], pose these questions: Will consultants be able to teach these principles? Will the people who propose the [ISO] norms feel uncomfortable about the norms?
Consultation or Instruction?
The study says that Spain is behind when it comes to consulting activity in Europe. In 2003, Germany and the United Kingdom comprised 50% of the European market [for consulting], while Spain cornered only 4%, or about the same level as the countries of southern Europe. Despite these numbers, the consulting business is enjoying one of its greatest periods since the technology bubble burst. Billings are growing at a double-digit rate. Spanish consulting firms took in €6.894 billion ($8.6 billion) in 2005, or 11.2% more than during the previous year. The Spanish Association of Consulting Firms (AEC) projects consulting revenues of €7.558 billion this year, about 10% more than last year. Another indicator of strong progress in the sector is the purchase of Azertia [a consultancy] by Indra, the country’s largest consulting firm. In addition, Indra has announced its merger with Soluziona, which is ranked third in the country behind Accenture [and Indra]. Other major players in the market, such as Capgemini, have responded to growing demand on the part of Spanish companies by expanding the size of their consultancies. Although technology services are in greatest demand, outsourcing divisions are growing fastest. They now take in 35% of total revenues and are expanding at an annual rate of 11%, making them one of the fundamental pillars of the industry’s expansion in coming years.
The authors analyze whether the achievements these consultancies have accomplished are perceived by their corporate clients as mere consulting activities or as instruction in the quality management principles that are the basis of ISO 9000 norms. They say that clients often complain that the consultant’s involvement in the company is all too brief and too superficial to guarantee that the consultant’s work style catches on in the organization. Moreover, during and after the consultant’s visit [to the company,] a great deal of bureaucracy is created, and a series of new procedures that cost the corporate client a great deal to carry out.
The best way to measure a consultant’s success is to see whether his corporate client has obtained certification [for ISO 9000]. Nevertheless, after achieving certification, companies don’t always appreciate the fact that “the enterprise has really captured and assimilated the spirit of the [ISO] norms beyond mere fulfillment of its [formal] requirements.” The authors try to quantify the methods trainers use in order to transmit the spirit behind these norms. The authors suspect that “those consultants who try to do a better job of transmitting this spirit have a greater impact on the business practices of the organizations where they work. On the other hand, those consultants who do not emphasize these principles do not manage to get their clients to carry out the advice and business practices that they propose.”
The ISO 9000 Quality Norm
The authors carried out empirical research about whether consultants who teach a specific style of work “have a great impact on the modus operandi [working style] of their clients, rather than merely implement a specific tool or concrete model. These consultants manage to build loyalty among their clients.” They also analyzed the implementation of the ISO 9000 [quality] assurance norms in enterprises that achieved that standard through collaboration with a consultant. One of their key findings is that “consultants do not make it easier for their clients to achieve the spirit of the norm.” Nor could the authors affirm that consultants make it harder to achieve those results. Instead, the authors assert that “the consultant provides little value when it comes to actually implementing the norm.”
Of the eight quality management principles in the ISO 9000 standard, the principle transmitted most poorly is identifying, understanding, and managing interrelated processes within a system. The consultants strive to contribute to the productivity and efficiency of the organization by achieving those goals. The study identifies planning the activity where consultants have the most room for improvement. The authors say that consultants “do not manage to coordinate various departments of the enterprise to see that the norms are implemented within the time frames that were forecasted.”
Another relatively difficult principle involves the way available data and information are utilized in the decision-making process. However, the authors note that trainers have succeeded in getting their clients to adopt continuous improvement in their processes.
It is also useful to highlight the relationship between two key factors: the degree to which the spirit of the norms is transmitted [to corporate clients] and the size of the consulting firm involved in such an effort. Although the sample in the study is not large enough to provide statistical proof that size makes a difference in the way norms are inculcated, the study says nevertheless, “It is the independent professionals [consultants] who have greatest success, followed closely by the large consulting firms. The small consulting firms appear to be doing a worse job of transmitting these principles.”
Another research project has subsequently shown that the kinds of companies that do not carry out the advice they get from their consultants are companies in which people have not figured out how to transmit those norms. This fact confirms that “consultants get involved in convincing clients to adopt the spirit of the norm; they don’t leave them on their own to fulfill every last detail involved in their advice. This kind of consultant enjoys a strong reputation and prestige, and he [or she] wins the trust of clients.”
Likewise, those corporate trainers who do a better job of transmitting the spirit of the norms [to their clients] and who focus on getting [ISO 9000] certification, and who do a better job of transmitting these principles, are more highly regarded by their corporate clients.
Putting a Premium on the Style of Work
The authors found little variation in the fees charged by consultants who provided services to companies participating in the study. And the companies did not usually consider those fees excessive. What kind of reward is given to consultants who transmit these norms most effectively? Research shows that compensation also comes in the form of third-party recommendations and the greater likelihood that the consultant will get repeat business in the future.”
According to the study, “All signs indicate that this category of consultants builds a base of loyal clients; part of the profitability of any consultancy can be explained in terms of the prestige that it acquires.” It is important to remember that “the future of any consultant depends to a great degree on the level of satisfaction among his or her clients.”
Prestige and experience are the two fundamental criteria used by clients when they set about choosing a consultant. “The more genuine a consultant is and the closer he is to the spirit of the norms transmitted to his clients, the better he is. This kind of consultant will gain more prestige and, through recommendations of his clients, he will get more projects to work on in the future.” Without doubt, personal recommendations are an important way to acquire new customers and to create a continuous cycle of feedback. “Those consultants who are more faithful to the principles of these [ISO 9000] norms achieve a high degree of customer satisfaction, which leads to more recommendations. Their working style is rewarded, and it strengthens the impetus for them to transmit the spirit of the norms.”
When it comes time to hiring a consulting, the authors suggest that companies need to “remember that those [consultants] who come closer to the principles underlying the ISO 9000 norms wind up generating more profits for their clients.” The clients of these kinds of consultants feel more at home with them, and take greater pleasure in working together. These consultants provide a greater guarantee of success; not only when it comes to achieving certification but when it comes to the health and efficacy of the quality management system that they implement.”