Professionalism in advisory services
Professional advisory and consulting services come in many guises and the ultimate perception of quality lies with the recipient thereof (the client). The Institute of Management Consultants and Master Coaches of South Africa (IMCSA) is a body which was established in 1972 in order to serve these professions in general and its clients and consultants in particular.
Is there interest in certification?
The interesting thing is that focus on professionalism and certification has waxed and waned and is waxing again. Why, you may ask. It may be because the client is not always able to determine whether he (or she) is going to get what he expected in the first place, or that he did not know what to expect. These are totally different issues and stem from the ability of the supplier or buyer of the services.
What do we expect from a professional consultant?
You may be of the opinion that the consultant is a professional and should be able to handle any eventuality, including reading the client’s mind. Unfortunately, this is not true except for the nimblest of our profession!
The truth is that there needs to be a meeting of the minds, underpinned by a level of professionalism that the client can depend on. The IMCSA has been certifying consultants for many years and does so according to an internationally recognised standard which ensures reciprocity of professional standards between nearly 50 nations. It has now been certifying Master Coaches for a number of years and the interest has been immense.
Who determines competence and how?
Certification of competence is a thorny and sometimes emotional issue. Does one write and exam? Who does the certifying? What is the ultimate value?
There was a minority school of international thought that examinations are the only reliable way of determining competence. They were soon convinced that a summative assessment by a panel of experienced assessors supported by a professional resume and portfolio of evidence is far more effective and practical. Even though this system has been used effectively with little fallout across the world, there are those detractors who believe the approach to be superficial. The fact is that these detractors have not gone to the trouble of preparing a comprehensive portfolio of evidence and are thus not in a position to comment.
Where examinations are found to be useful, is in the examination of knowledge in line with the Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). This has an added benefit of not requiring the further assessment of knowledge in the process of certification, thus saving in face to face time with assessors. The IMCSA is committed to re-introducing some form of examinations or tests as an entry level pre-requisite for certification.
The value of standards
The outcome of professional assessments is influenced largely by the competence of and standards set by the professional standards committee and the panel of assessors. A competent assessor can generally identify a competent consultant and recommend his certification.
The South African government and many of its parastatal organisations can attest to many horrific experiences due to the use of incompetent or irreputable consultants and some are beginning to blacklist such consultants. These experiences are obviously not restricted to the government sector and could be largely avoided if clients insisted on the use of certified management consultants.
Internationally, clients and even consulting networks are insisting on the comfort of certification, having had many poor experiences to support their preferences for certified consultants. This has been confirmed by advertisements for skilled consultants which state the requirement for Certified Management Consultants (CMCs) and Master Coaches (MCs) very specifically.
In addition, the European Union (EU) is embarking on a major initiative to begin the formal certification of management consultants in line with an ISO accredited process. The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (ICMCI – now called CMC- Global) of which the IMCSA is a founding member, is fully involved in this initiative and is actively driving it as a pilot over the next few years. A number of EU initiatives are aimed at levelling the playing fields between member nations, in such a way that skilled resources can move between countries without compromising quality.
Can we guarantee results?
A question that arises quite often is “does certification guarantee results?”. Unfortunately, the answer is no – there is no silver bullet. Consulting assignments failure can be as much due to client incompetence as consultant incompetence. In these circumstances, the competent consultant is required to retreat when unfavourable circumstances (for assignment success) present themselves, or insist on the rectification of those factors before continuing with an assignment.
A question of Ethics
This raises a final aspect of professionalism, which is ethical behaviour. The certification process requires evidence that a consultant has met the requirements of ethical behaviour on the job and has testimonials to this effect. Referees may be contacted to confirm their written attestations verbally.
Consulting assignment failure can be as much due to the lack of ethics as the lack of competence, hence the emphasis on both.
So where does the certification process actually add value if there are no guarantees? The answer lies in the decrease of risk and not its elimination. A certified consultant will have been assessed for competence and ethical behaviour and may be stripped of his certified status if he does not continue with professional development, or has a disciplinary action initiated against him which remains unresolved.
The IMCSA is committed to resolving ethical and professional disputes between clients and its members. There is no guarantee that the disciplinary board will rule in favour of the client or the member and remains impartial in such matters.
Helping you with the selection process
A further service that the IMCSA offers clients and prospective clients is assistance in setting up an effective selection process for professional services. Many clients do not fully comprehend the complexity and intangible nature of professional services and may be lead astray by unscrupulous salesmen.
The financial impact of poor choices regarding professional advisors is increasing as choices become more complex. The value of a reputable, professional and ethical consultant simply cannot be underestimated.
(Angelo Kehayas is a fellow CMC and is the executive director (and past president) of the IMCSA. He has been dedicated to the improvement of professional standards locally and globally for nearly 30 years.)