A consultant is someone external to the company who can provide valuable feedback. Hiring a consultant is an investment in time and resources–both human and financial–in the health of the company. Yet, provided that the company works in good faith and that the consultant is effective, a consultant can bring real value to the company.
When to hire a consultant
It may not always be clear when a company would benefit from hiring a consultant, but here are some possibilities:
- When the expertise you need is not available in-house
- When the need is short-term and specialized
- When current staff doesn’t have the time to focus on a particular issue, situation or opportunity
- When an objective outside opinion and perspective is required
- When a change agent is needed
- When growth is causing structural issues
- When other performance indicators call for new strategies
- When external threats require newly trained staff
- When there is a need to provide validation
- When help is needed to navigate tricky internal or external relationships
What traits to look for in a consultant
It is helpful to do some homework before hiring a consultant. You might talk to others in your professional networks or organizations to get referrals, and, once you have some specific possibilities, review their websites and research the firms and their consulting experience. Check their history, background, and expertise.
When you have narrowed down the possibilities, check their references: have they successfully helped other companies, and, if so, in what ways? Ask about specific experiences they have had to get an understanding of their methods and strategies. Do you see evidence that the consultant learns on the job and can apply what they have learned about the company in helpful and measurable ways?
Specifically, look for the following abilities:
- Listening: are they a good listener, or do they come in already having a solution and agenda? That is very different from hearing what the problem is and tailoring the solution to that particular client. Listening is one of the top traits of a consultant. They should demonstrate an ability to digest what they hear and to think in terms of specific remedies.
- Discerning and observing: can they substantially understand what the problem is? Can they summarize what they perceive the issue to be, and is their summary cohesive with your own understanding?
- Questioning: do they ask pertinent questions that display a keen insight?
- Assessing: can they assess the situation and give you valuable feedback? Can they add any additional insight that resonates with you?
- Communicating: throughout the process, can they clearly communicate to you and to the entire organization? Communication skills are essential, and being able to communicate with all people within the organization is essential.
How to ensure success
Once you have chosen a consultant, what steps can the company take to ensure a successful consulting experience?
- Provide clear and consistent senior leadership support. To be effective, a consultant must have free access to those who have the power and ability to implement changes. This includes access to executive or senior leadership. Leadership must stay actively involved throughout the process to signal its support.
- Leadership also must loudly and consistently convey their support for the consultancy throughout the entire organization.
- Strong leaders will also monitor the performance of their consultants to ensure that their designs and outputs perfectly align with expectations found within the Scope of Work.
- Provide an adequate budget. Committing enough funds for the time, space, and resources needed will also help to ensure success.
- Provide sufficient time. Allowing the necessary time for employee meetings with the consultant will be crucial for effective communication.
- Provide the necessary physical resources. Having the necessary meeting rooms available and providing adequate technology will be important in ensuring success. Providing the resources will also help the leadership to demonstrate their support for this endeavor.
Roadblocks to a successful consultant experience
Lacking the critical elements of leadership access and support, proper budget, and adequate time, a successful consultant experience rarely occurs. Companies that lack the internal leadership necessary to bring about changes should save their money.
Other obstacles can also cobble a consultant experience. Despite responsible forethought and choice on the company’s part in selecting a consultant, a consultant can be ineffective. Perhaps they oversold their capabilities, or they weren’t an effective communicator. Or perhaps the consultant found resistance internally and didn’t know how to navigate it. Or perhaps they didn’t create tangible metrics for success.
Another possible roadblock can occur because of internal resistance. Just because the consultant has the endorsement of the administration, they may not have full support of the employees, and sometimes internal employee dynamics can be difficult to resolve for a consultant. Peers in the organization sometimes have power struggles.
Consider starting with one project
If you want to have a trial run with a consultant, consider hiring them for an initial scope of work. That way, you can see how they work within the company and how effective and helpful they are. If the experience is not a good one, then you are free to move on.
But, if the experience goes well and there is measurable success, you can explore expanding the scope of the consultant’s work. It’s not uncommon for the relationship to be ongoing, as organizations see the benefit of a consultant and want to continue with the relationship if it is effective.
Guidance and advice are the principle gifts consultants offer their clientele; progress and opportunity are the gifts corporations give their consultants. The relationship should work when both parties are ready to move forward. Are you? Let’s talk. As business consultants at Bellewether, we can help organizations identify and resolve problems, as well as establish specific metrics for success within the company.