Posted by: malstott | January 25, 2016

Hitting The Mark With Your Consulting Dollars

ElmerfuddAnd then he said, “Your input was spot on and the way you structured your analysis clearly points us in the right direction. The team values your leadership and wouldn’t have made this kind of progress without your help…..It is too bad that we won’t be implementing.”

“Ready, Fire, Aim” seems to be the way many companies approach hiring a consultant. They know that they need help from an expert. They don’t have an internal resource available to move the problem, analysis or team ahead. And sometimes they simply want another perspective that will open their thinking or cause them to look at the landscape or strategy from a different angle. But in many cases the “aiming” of this resource doesn’t happen upfront and an opportunity is missed.

There are many ways to avoid this pitfall but if the following big five are followed, your consulting dollars will be optimized.

  1. Begin with the end in mind – As Steven Covey describes in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it is important to envision what you want in the future in order to work toward it. With a consultant this idea is a money saver. Consider what you would like as an outcome before you bring in a consultant. If your objective is something general like “coach the team”, “review and input to strategy”, “assess state of business”, then it is even more important to think through an outcome. If you don’t have time to put this in writing, ask the consultant to do it as a first step or even a step prior to hiring. Getting an agreement about outcome will help you and your staff focus and will give the consultant some momentum when starting.
  2. Shore up internal resources – The best consulting arrangement is when a strong internal team and well-defined sponsor couples with the consultant. There are several benefits to this. The first is accountability. The consultant has a participatory audience who will quickly feed back if the work is on track or missing the mark. The second is synergy. Having internal resources involved keeps the company culture and priorities front and center. The third is long-term results. Internal resources are there to stay and will take ideas, action plans and analysis forward.  If you light a match you will see better but if you use the match to light a bonfire, the heat and light will remain after the match burns out. Leverage your consultant to drive permanent change into your organization.
  3. Pick a consultant who will partner – But sometimes the objective changes. Sometimes external factors change or the consultant will learn more about a situation and that should drive a redirect. If your chosen consultant has the right approach to the job, the new information will be quickly disclosed to you and your team which will in turn drive a conversation about a new way forward. If there is a weekly status meeting between the consultant and her sponsor, time will not be wasted. Don’t be afraid to simply put the work on hold until it is clear what the next steps should be. That is one advantage of having a consultant rather than a full-time employee. The resource can be deployed very surgically and can be removed if not needed.
  4. Invest – The old adage, “you get what you pay for” is true in consulting.  The hourly cost should be considered for the worth and not simply compared to internal salaries. Look for consultants with specific expertise. Look for hands on professionals who have implemented in the past and are steeped in practical reality and not simply theory. While the big consulting firms do have consultants with both theory and practical experience you are more likely to get theory and analysis with the big firms. Whether hiring from a big consulting firm or looking for an individual with the skills you need, you will need to check the backgrounds of those hired. Ask specific questions about experiences in the areas in which you need the help. Look for professionals who can give you examples of change management success. It is one thing to know what works. It is another to get others to change to that new working model.
  5. Course correct – Don’t hesitate to change the direction of the work. If the results are not what you are looking for, ask for a change. If the information isn’t being delivered in a way that can be absorbed, ask for a change. If the cultural match isn’t there, change before investing too much in an arrangement that won’t move the organization forward. Don’t allow a consulting engagement to be “open loop”. Tighten the feedback loop for optimal results.

When a consultant’s work isn’t used at the end of the project it isn’t a total waste because typically something is learned and much is uncovered about the problem. On the other hand, the money spent is likely higher than need be. If the problem is defined in the beginning, regularly course corrected by people within the company who will live with the results and if the right consultant is chosen who will adapt and communicate, you will optimize your results.

“I hope you can hewp me mister game warden. I’ve been towd I can shoot wabbits, mongooses, pigeons, dirty skunks and ducks. Can you teww me what season it weawwy is??!!”       Elmer Fudd

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