Good consultants understand the ‘what’ versus ‘how’ issues in the government. Through a combination of hands-on experience and understanding of the tenets of being a trusted advisor, good consultants provide deeper insights through better instincts to their clients. They're practical, they understand how to deal with complex issues, and they tell it like it is.
At the other end of the spectrum, consultants whose total professional experience consists of 'consulting' experience only truly know one thing: The business of consulting. These individuals specialize in applying and executing a methodology to a problem set; in assessing, analyzing, and recommending based on what the method tells them to do. Without any real experience in the underlying job functions, they often miss the subtleties, realities, and practicalities of the client’s actual environment. The use of these resources can work, but consultants with real experiences who work collaboratively with clients simply work better.
Let’s look at an example. A consultant is asked to facilitate a working group. Does the consultant with little or no practical experience pull the chairperson of the group aside after a period of time and say, ‘I think we’re going in circles here, have you considered bifurcating the group to some degree to enable progress?’ More often than not, the group will receive from this type of support very clean meeting minutes, and timely status reports showing a ‘green’ dashboard because the contract is burning as expected. The consultant with real organizational and operational experience however advises the chair based on a combination of the goals of the group and the realities of its ability to make real progress.
Another good example is an effort to identify savings or efficiencies in a functional area. The consultant with experience limited simply to consulting can successfully execute a data collection process which may collect ideas from individuals in the organization through interviews or even conduct a benchmarking study where ideas are collected from other organizations. But a consultant with real experience already possesses a wealth of ideas, can better identify new ones, and better assess the value and feasibility of options for the organization based on their past experience of actually knowing what works.
Good federal leaders understand this dynamic and often work to structure contracts not to get the best firms, but to get the best people from any firm. They often look at a potential contract based on the quality of the team and the resources as a significant differentiator over the soundness of a proposed methodology or approach.