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STRONG SUIT: Send in the consultants

Dennis Strong

STRONG SUIT: Send in the consultants

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The Government of Barbados is under tremendous pressure to make significant, sustainable changes in the country’s economic fortunes and to reform practices that obviously don’t work as they should. Typically, this is the time when the “experts” are brought in to: analyse, strategise, do studies, write reports, advise, make plans and establish terms of reference.
Since I am a practicing Certified Management Consultant (CMC), I must declare that I have a vested interest and a biased view of how this process should unfold. I have been involved in consulting activities around the world, for more than 50 years and have been based in Barbados since 1993.
The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (ICMCI) estimates that in developed, mature markets, one person per 1 000 population is a “consultant”. In developing countries and “immature markets”, the ratio is estimated to be one in every 2 000. So, in Barbados, there are many people offering “consulting” services.
Because of my extensive involvement in the industry and the profession, I know that many of these people are simply calling themselves “consultants” while looking for a job. It sounds nicer than “unemployed”. Others are experts or specialists in a technical area that’s in demand. That can range from IT to medicine, to the “financial advisors”; that populate the landscape.
I am not making these observations to disparage anyone. I happen to know that it is not uncommon for politicians and some corporate executives to circumvent hiring restrictions and provide income for friends and family members. The record will also show that some of these funds have found their way into the pockets of those authorising the contracts.
Today, I spoke with a person who had first-hand experience of a “consultant” being brought into a Government department on a six-month contract that was extended to 18 months. The contract ended because it was clear that no effective work was done and the problem had gotten increasingly worse.
The scandals that have been attributed to nefarious management consulting practices have made headlines all over the world. We have notorious ones right here in this region.
In the wake, legislation has been enacted to appease the victims and give the appearance of minimising risk. The influence of management consultants is so pervasive that we are often unaware that it touches us unless something goes wrong.
I am raising this now because this is clearly a time when management consulting services are needed. Not the “do a study and write a report” type but one that requires committed professionals who are experienced at “walking” the client through the changes. Management consulting is a trillion dollar a year industry. Consulting services represent a substantial foreign exchange drain on our economies because 92.5 per cent of fees are paid to non-regional consultants.
There are now ISO standards that define best practice, essential processes and necessary competencies for management consultancy.
In Barbados and the Caribbean, there are a growing number of management consultants who have obtained certification to these globally-recognised standards and practices.
It would be shameful waste to allow cronyism and secrecy to thwart this opportunity to adopt a more effective, transparent approach to improvement.
It is also an opportunity to create a vibrant service export that can earn foreign exchange.
God bless.
Dennis Strong is a founding president of the Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants.