What you should know when hiring a consultant
Businesses engage consultants due to a variety of reasons. You could require a specialized set of skills and capabilities to solve issues you face. Or need an independent third-party to look at your business objectively. Or bandwidth limitations are not letting you focus on important initiatives and a consultant provides additional brains and hands.
Consultants require an investment of time and money. Good consulting expertise charges good money. To maximise your returns on the investment, you need to make sure of certain things. This article shows you how to maximize the returns from an investment in a consultant.
Return maximiser #1: Clear outcome definition
While it seems like a no-brainer, the lack of outcome definition causes most client-consultant issues. A business may have many problems, all of which need solving. Yet, its easy to try to solve everything and end up not solving anything well. Identify which problems need to be addressed immediately and which can wait. Basis that, articulate the outcomes you want from a consulting engagement.
Often, when articulating outcomes, you will find some of your problems are symptoms of a larger issue. Identifying this larger issue is critical. Even if you don’t hire a consultant to help you solve it.
It makes sense to involve the consultant in framing the outcomes. It helps gauge consultant capability. A consultant who understands your problem and defines outcomes, is likely to be in a great position to help you solve them.
Return maximiser #2: View Consulting differently from outsourcing
There’s a difference between consulting and outsourcing. Outsourcing is giving the entire responsibility of a task to someone outside your business. Consulting needs much more of your involvement and time. Some businesses view consultants who want a lot of interaction with them with suspicion. And agree with Martin Kihn in House of Lies that consultants steal your watch and then tell you the time. This might happen. Yet, without a consultant understanding your context, it’s impossible to develop actionable insights. Often the answers are present within the organization. Making sense of the problem, prioritizing potential solutions and converting to actionable steps is where the consultant adds value. Don’t discount that value. And recognize that both client and consultant have responsibilities towards achieving an optimum outcome.
Return maximiser #3: Take your time and then don’t!
Take your time prior to engaging a consultant. Think through and discuss outcomes. Be convinced of the need to engage a consultant. And check whether you could achieve the same outcomes internally at a lower cost. That said, set triggers for hiring a consultant or deciding not to. For instance, you could link consultant hiring to (non)-achievement of a target. Or set aside a specific time period where you will try to take solve your current challenge internally. The best outcome is if you manage to meet outcomes in that period. Else, engage a consultant.
Triggers are important to stop you from pushing decisions forward. Which neither helps you nor the consultant. Instead, set a trigger and take a decision either way.
Return maximiser #4: Appreciate Simple and Workable over Impressive
“I knew that already”, say many clients to consultants at the end of an intervention. This drives the consultant’s quest for fancier looking deliverables. The larger the page count, the more impressive it seems to clients. This focus on ‘deliverables’ is equally the clients and consultants’ fault. One key solution is to focus on outcomes- see Return Maximiser #1.
Its also important for clients to realize that simple is often best. It may be obvious in hindsight. Hindsight is always 20/20. But it’s a solution which has been jointly chosen by you and the consultant. If there’s diligence in looking at alternatives and examining pros and cons from an internal and external perspective, you should be happy with a simple solution.
Return maximiser #5: Focus on implementation
Your consultant has proposed a simple, beautiful solution. Don’t stop at that point. You need two more steps. One- an implementable action plan with set accountabilities and timelines. Get the consultant to give you a practical action plan. With KPIs to measure that you’re going in the right direction. Two- start implementing! If you’re not confident about implementing internally, get the consultant to help. Yet, the core of the implementation should be internal. Limit a consultant’s role, if at all, to making sure that everything is going to plan. And to flag areas where they aren’t.
You’ll never be happy with a consultant’s work, if you treat it as a cost. Instead, look at it as an investment. And remember the 5 return maximisers to supercharge your returns on that investment.
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