Knowledge is power and armed with knowledge and information, individuals can transform the world in both small and more fundamental ways.
As consultants, our unstated goal - if we were to ask our clients, is (invariably) to deliver massive transformations to their ways of working, all while generating cost savings. Adding to the complexity is that we are often asked to meet these fundamental, earth-changing goals in emerging subject matter areas. Sounds impossible, right?
Beyond the impossibility factor, it may also sound suspiciously similar to the Commonwealth Government's objectives in creating a robust and more agile Australian Public Service1. The dilemma faced by consultants and the Commonwealth sounds like pipe reams. Impossibly ambitious. An overreach in terms of objectives. And they both are - unless, we re-formulate the ways we use information and harness our knowledge.
So, how do we do that?
Two concepts - Knowledge transfer and collaboration. Between and with whom? Private industry consultants and public servants.
The marriage of those two concepts - knowledge transfer and collaboration can result in the sharing of information between private and public sector organisations, through both informal and formal means, and can have a lasting positive impact on both types of organisations - on their workplace cultures, business process and accelerates the development of ideas and innovative strategies. It also cultivates an abundance mentality where everyone wins - and the Australian public, in particular. For any organisation, let alone one as large, multi-disciplinary and focused as the APS umbrella, these are a significant factor to consider.
Knowledge transfer is also an integral element to employee morale - creating an environment in which sharing is supported, rewarded and absorbed across multiple disciplines or focus areas. Whether tacit or explicit, knowledge transfer is powerful for an APS with a renewed focus on capability uplift - and one that will enable productivity gains when Commonwealth agencies partner with like-minded organisations in the public and private sector.
So, how do we, as consultants, make the most of engagements?
In conversations about different consulting experiences, it boils down to three major considerations.
1. Know your risk apetite.
Before engaging consultants or labour hire services, Commonwealth agencies should ask themselves: What are the risks in trying to be innovative, collaborative and asking for solutions from consultants that answer the bigger questions, as opposed to just providing a small-target solution? Quick answer - not many, if you ask for those 'big answers' as a value-add to a small-target RFQ.
Those broader questions will also help Commonwealth entities focus their resourcing and budgets on longer-term, value-adding strategic projects, and to transform tactical, low-priority projects into ones that generate ongoing value.
Those types of (broad) questions will help agencies clarify the ways which independent and innovative consulting firms can bring real value to the mix - by helping assist your team in identifying and solving for the small and fundamental changes simultaneously. And it will also help agencies distinguish between firms that dial-it-in or are really thinking about their clients' challenges wholistically.
2. Understand the parameters of your environment.
Is it static, or dynamic, subject to frequent staffing or other resource changes? In what ways does internal bureaucracy affect personal and professional development of skills and knowledge that may be shared amongst one another?
Consultants, contrary to contractors, are useful conduits of a particular subject matter.
They have more freedom to explore subject matters, particularly in merging policy and technological areas. This is an area where consultancy firms can really shine. Consultancies are not hampered by red-and-grey tape, tendering guidelines. They have the flexibility, time and energies to invest in exploring the latest best-practice initiatives. And the APS can and should take advantage of that dynamic, to use their market power to push firms to develop and innovate on their behalf. Consulting firms are increasingly exploring new ways to provide expertise and technological innovations to uplift the APS through informal and formal engagements, and by creating dialogue that facilitates sharing ideas, opinions, opportunities and skills.
3. Be willing to engage in frank and fearless conversations.
Frank and fearless communication is a two-way street. It's not only consulting firms that have to be 'the driver's seat' and pushing boundaries. The APS must also be willing to discover and hear new and innovative solutions to problems they seek to rectify. The reality is - vendors - or independent firms - will be the ones leading the charge, pushing the envelope. But they also must be careful when they push. They must also be willing to understand their clients' needs, to address specific concerns and - above all, be interested in making a difference. To be excited about helping to fix a problem faced by their clients, but not coming into the relationships with 'fixed ideas.' The really hard part about effective information sharing and collaboration is really listening and really understanding what's being asked. And from both parties.