Win Big with Consultants
Executive summary: External consultants sometimes save whole companies, but sometimes just waste precious time and money. Here’s how you can profit the most from using external consulting services.
- Call in the consultant early
Early involvement of skills, knowledge and experience makes or breaks projects. Involve the consultant as soon as you realize that your organization lacks the necessary skills for an undertaking. If you know yourself and your organization well, or if you are cautious, you might even be able to engage someone before you initiate the project, so the two of you can ensure a flying start. No surprise here: Early involvement typically results in working longer with the consultant. Remember, this only makes sense if you’re interested in maximizing the return on your investment in consulting, and not in minimizing its cost.
- Make an educated plan
Don’t do any planning without involving the consultant who will have to help you during the execution! Even experts can’t turn any bad plan into a success story. Some wouldn’t refuse to try though, and will charge you for delivering failure.
- Observe in action
If you haven’t worked with the person yet, agree on a small scope, low risk contract to see the (wo)man in action. Typical short contracts can be e.g. trainings, workshops, situational analyses, etc… You’re better off if the consultant does not even know that it’s an initial test contract. This way you can give a chance for multiple consultants and choose the one that fits you the best, without harming the relationship with the others. Don’t be stingy during this period: Testing costs orders of magnitude less than what the right advice can bring you during the project.
- Sometimes it’s worth the wait
If you know whom you want to work with, it might be worth to wait for her. If you haven’t found the proper person yet, you might want to postpone the project. What you absolutely should avoid is starting something major without any direct access to advice in the topic. To make a good decision on waiting or not, consider which option poses the higher risk: Waiting or guessing?
- Enabler, not omnipotent substitute
Once you’ve secured the contract with the consultant, make sure you interact with and fully support him. Consultants are externals, after all, who should be called in when there’s a lot at stake. In these situations you should make the calls, not the consultant. Do not think of transferring your responsibilities to an external. Instead, let him enable you to make better decisions that will move you closer to your desired destination.