How to get more out of consultants

Hyder's Rod Stewart discusses the worrying trend of professionals taking up positions away from their natural strengths.

IDEAS: Rod Stewart believes a 'joined-up' approach to staff retention is the way forward.
IDEAS: Rod Stewart believes a 'joined-up' approach to staff retention is the way forward.

Rod Stewart, regional managing director, Hyder Consulting, discusses the worrying trend of professionals taking up positions away from their natural strengths.

As I sit in my consultant's ivory tower, I sometimes wonder what happened to the old school of thought where consultants were properly valued, respected and selected for their innovation, skill and specialist knowledge.

Isn't it possible that we need to work more collaboratively, given the limited availability of experienced resources?

Here in the Gulf, I manage a regional organisation operating in an environment where it can be a real challenge to differentiate ourselves from the competition. The truth is that there are some very good and experienced engineering and advisory consultants now working in the region. We all face much the same pressures of finding the right calibre of resources to deliver projects which either match or exceed our client's expectations.

To be a success, a consultant can have a number of strategies:-

  •  A strong client relationship model (getting your client to enjoy working with you);
  • A branding and prestige model (having better PR than the competition);
  •  The lowest price model;
  • Having a unique or innovative solution or team of experts;
  •  Simply having access to all the competent resources needed to deliver on time.

Sometimes all the above models are brought into play and sometimes one model dominates. Increasingly, however, access to genuinely available resources is the real unique selling point.

A significant and worrying trend in this resource constrained market is the increasing number of job offers being made to good consultants to leave consultancy and either join a client organisation, or a project management organisation.

I have a healthy respect for the project management profession, but I believe that there has been an unfortunate tendency to take good engineering or planning consultants away from their natural strengths, and ask them to manage or oversee others in their profession. It is a truism to say that good engineers do not automatically make good managers. Equally, to ask a design professional to take on client decision-making responsibilities frequently falls flat.

The consequence of this corporate 'raiding' of good consultant's staff is a further dilution of available resources to deliver design, as well as the risk of pushing inexperienced staff into positions of premature and inappropriate responsibility. My simple question is: do our clients really want to do this to the consulting industry? Isn't it possible that we need to work more collaboratively, given the limited availability of experienced resources?

My solution to this conundrum? Why not consider pursuing a more joined-up approach to sharing technical staff and keeping them in their area of expertise? There are good examples in the region where consultants have seconded senior staff to client organisations, to support technical decision-making, and they have undoubtedly added something positive to the team, without taking them away from consultancy.

Project partnering is another simple way to share specialist resources rather than double up, and there are also examples of longer-term 'strategic alliances' now happening between developers and either contractors or project managers, which have had a similar effect.

Finally, I believe the whole regional industry should be looking to extend its recruitment drive to those other parts of the world where there is spare technical capacity. This will add to the resource pool as well as potentially introducing new international approaches and ideas. Taking consultants from within the region simply adds to growing wage inflation, and reduces local capacity.

At Hyder Consulting, we work hard at doing all the right things - attracting and retaining staff, applying robust design processes, and perhaps most importantly, trying to work for clients who really appreciate what we do. However, we still lose good staff. This is frustrating, but is clearly a feature of the market we are in.

I just wonder sometimes who will be left to deliver the design work at the end of the day!

If you would like to write for Construction Week in this column, please email angela.giuffrida@itp.com

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