Making the decision to engage a business consultant should never be taken lightly.
Consultants are typically brought in to support or facilitate development, or to solve problems within your business that cannot be managed in-house, perhaps due to time constraints or lack of expertise. Whether this is in the form of supporting recruitment efforts, business processes, leadership development or general process review and improvement, consultancy represents a significant investment.
So, how do you know whether you have selected the right consultant for your business? The honest response is that this won’t truly become apparent until the agreed work has been concluded and the results have been reviewed, however here are eight essentials to help you identify the right consultant to drive improved performance and business success:
1. An ability to understand your business, industry and particular challenges
Business leaders very often mistakenly look for consultants that have demonstrated time and experience within their industry. The issue here is the old adage, ‘when the only solution that you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail’. The skill of a consultant should not be in their ability to transfer the learnings they have by working with other companies within your industry, but in being able to use effective questioning and review techniques to help you genuinely understand your issues and challenges, then supporting you to develop strategies to tackle them.
2. Demonstrable subject matter knowledge
If you hire someone to support your leadership development efforts, you need someone who understands both the theoretical and practical aspects of leadership and how to transfer that knowledge to your business. A consultant’s level of understanding or specialism is often demonstrated during their fact-finding discussions with you, where they draw upon their knowledge to drive their interview technique to fully understand your business issues.
3. Prompt response times
If a consultant is slow in responding to your calls and electronic communication, you need to consider your priority as a customer and the consultant’s ability to realise your project goals. Is the project scope realistic? Is the consultant stretched between too many mandates? If you feel that you are not getting the attention you deserve, it’s imperative to tackle this quickly.
4. Cultural fit
Your company culture drives your identity and practices. If your consultant doesn’t fit with your culture, or perhaps can’t adjust their approach to fit, the potential for failure is incredibly high. In your initial review of the service provider, imagine them working with all members of your team, from senior management to entry level new hires. Will they connect? If the answer is no, then this is not the consultant for you.
If your consultant doesn’t fit with your culture, or perhaps can’t adjust their approach to fit, the potential for failure is incredibly high.
5. Clear communication
Many of the companies in our network highlight the high number of consultants that use convoluted management speak. This is often driven by the background of the consultant and the companies that they have worked for in the past. The value of a consultant diminishes rapidly if either you, or other members of your team, have difficulty understanding their coaching or mentoring style.
6. Established success metrics
Prior to the outset of any programme of work, you should expect your consultant to have an in-depth conversation with you regarding what success looks like. Without a defined destination, consultancy can dilute into becoming a business-as-usual practice that doesn’t necessarily add huge value to your business. A programme of consultancy should have a defined time frame, a plan of action and defined outcomes.
7. Regular feedback and check-in time
Leading on from the point above, a consultant should be in regular communication with you with updates as to how the programme of work is progressing. The method of feedback will likely be agreed with you prior to the commencement of the programme - it may be a regular on-site catch-up, or it may take the form of a weekly or monthly written report. However this feedback is delivered, the consultant should be able to provide you with an understanding of how on-track the programme is, along with what, if any, changes to the original plan may be required.
8. A good understanding of the consultant’s role
Finally, both you and your chosen consultant should fully understand the role they play within your business. Their job is to provide professional advice and support to help you achieve your business goals. This may require them to analyse certain practices or policies that you have, it may require them to act as a coach to you and your team allowing you to find your own answers to the challenges you face, or it may require them to support a level of mentorship or development delivery with members of your team. Remember that all this must be a service provided by an outsider to your business. Consultants should never fall into an employee mindset where you feel that they are working within your organisation. They must maintain an impartial position so that they are able to challenge you and your business to drive the required change and growth.
Tremendous value can be gained from using a business consultant who sits outside the internal politics of your organisation, as long as they have the skills and knowledge to help you identify and overcome business issues, and the ability to support growth and success. Following these eight essentials will help ensure that you choose the right consultant, or firm, for your business.