Consulting quality and the value you get out of it is in the eye of the beholder. Whether you want to hire a consulting firm to generate fresh ideas for your business, get access to the consultants’ expertise and experience, or augment your business, these seven tips will make sure that you get the right firm hired and make your collaboration as effective as possible.
1. Formulate a clear brief.
When you first meet your potential consulting partner, be very clear about your business objectives, timeframes and desired outcomes (and no, the question “What does success look like to you?” has not gone out of style). In fact, treat your consultant as your doctor: Tell them everything they need to know about your business and the challenges that you’re facing — and then some. Do not leave out the details you consider insignificant as they might offer the consultant deeper insights into the problem that help them solve it more efficiently.
2. Be wary and look for independence.
It’s not surprising that the consulting industry has got a bad rep. After years and years of billing clients by the hour and pitching them products and services to hit their sales targets, consulting firms have done some significant damage. As a client, when you meet and work with a consultant, be diligent: Pay attention to who’s agenda is most important in the conversation. Are you being sold ready-to-use solutions, or is the consultant fully focused on your agenda? Ask about how they are being compensated. Conflicts may be difficult to avoid — the key is to know about them and address them upfront.
3. Speak the same language.
While technically you’re probably speaking the same language to your consultant already, you need to make sure you are being understood exactly the way you mean it, because people use same words to mean different things. Explain your terminology to the consultant to make sure that there are no ambiguities about what you actually mean. Understanding how your company speaks or defines terms can help a consultant understand your brief and objectives better and focus on the right aspects of the job.
4. Don’t be afraid to talk money.
The days when clients played the “being vague about the budget” game and when consultants played the budget guessing game are over. Save your (and your consultant’s) time and communicate your budget requirements and expectations upfront. With the budget guidance, your consultant will offer you a concise plan that will get you to your desired outcome in the most efficient way, while staying within the budget you have. It will also save you the time you would otherwise spend talking to the wrong consultants.
5. Define the outcome.
In your work with the consultant, focus on the outcome, not on the time needed to deliver it. Be clear with your consultant about the body of work and the business outcome you are expecting from it and take time to discuss and define the results further with the consultant. While many consulting firms used to charge clients by the hour, this approach often is not effective. Consultants typically do not like to bill clients by the hour, nor do clients want to feel like every minute they spend talking to a consultant costs them money. By focusing on the business outcome rather than on the hours, you’re holding the consulting firm accountable for the results within the timeline and the budget that you have.
6. Don’t expect your consultant to be “a visitor.”
Working with a consulting firm is not a one-way street. Do not expect that your consultant will hit the ground running following your brief and will come back to you when the project is over. It’s a process of collaboration where both parties are taking an active role. Don’t expect your consultant to be a visitor, but rather an extension of your team. Invite your consultant to be present on-site, get into the weeds with you and get integrated within your team. That’s the only way they can get a deep understanding of the challenges you’re facing and, ultimately, identify the best solution.
7. Don’t skip regular check-ins.
It might sound boring, but project management is essential for ensuring the deliverables. Avoid the scenario where a kick-off meeting with your consultant is followed by a final deliverable meeting at the end of the project when it’s too late to make any adjustments for the best outcome. Ensure that you and your consultant have regular check-ins: a 30-minute weekly call with an agenda and progress highlights, as well issues, challenges, bottlenecks and questions will give you sufficient control over the project’s progress. Don’t forget about other project check-ins either: Whether you plan to have quarterly, bi-annual or annual reviews, define the project milestones in advance and stay true to making them happen.
Finding the right consultant is not an easy task. You need someone who will understand your business and has the right expertise, as well as who can act upon it and deliver the results you need. By following the tips above you’re making your experience of finding the right consultant easier and eliminating the risk of working with a wrong one who can waste your time and money. And while there are still companies out there that are giving great consultants a bad name, do not settle for outdated approaches and retired mindsets. Find someone who will work with you, not for you.
The article was originally published by Forbes magazine.
About the author:
Joe Farris is a co-founder at Nua Group, a San Francisco-based Human Resources consulting firm specializing in total rewards. Joe challenges organizations to think beyond the median, focusing on people-related investments that drive meaningful workforce and business outcomes. He helps organizations build great companies through bold and differentiated people strategies.