Whether you need specific technical expertise, additional personnel for project leadership, help with hiring your next superstar, or just to add a qualified voice in making decisions, the practice of utilizing external consultants successfully has gained steam in recent years.
However in this day and age of high unemployment, retiring baby boomers, and inexperienced entrepreneurs the process of sifting through the crowded field of free-agent assistance can make it difficult to find good help.
Here are some of the things to look for & consider when hiring a consultant.
Shared Understanding of the Role of the Consultant
Contrary to what some people would have you believe, consultants don’t want to replace employees. Whether the consultant works in the areas of Learning & Development, IT, Sales, Process, or Strategy there is typically a push/pull feeling in which someone feels the need for help, and someone else feels threatened – but there is no reason for tension.
Properly preparing those with whom the consultant will be working directly is a key issue. When employees know that the consultant is there to augment and support what they do well rather than replace their function the relationship instantly becomes more valuable and beneficial. Consider a consultant much in the same way you would any other service provider such as a carpenter or tax preparer. It’s likely you could accomplish the outsourced project yourself, but the additional expertise leaves you feeling more confident in the results and with more time to do other critical tasks.
Selecting a Consultant
Easily the most critical component of a successful external engagement is in choosing the right firm for the project right from the beginning. But even before you pick up the phone to inquire about the services of any expert you should already know the following:
1) What your desired OUTCOMES will be
2) A defined, and REFINED set of criteria that will ensure success
3) Determination of project requirements and SCOPE
4) Assessment of the VALUE of the project to the organization
5) How the consultant will fit in to the CULTURE of the organization
Even a small gap in these areas can make the difference between a high-return engagement, and one that leaves you with a bad taste for all opportunities to utilize outside assistance. Don’t rush in choosing a consultant based on reputation or price. Understanding both the financial resources you will be putting into (and expecting out of) the project, as well as the time you spend in preparing specifically what the project will entail will provide you with a head start in regards to which consultant is going to give you the greatest chance at success.
Managing the Consulting Relationship
Perhaps the trickiest area in the relationship is the one that spans the distance between over-managing an outsourced assignment and not providing enough guidance to the consultant in order to achieve the desired outcomes.
Even in the instances where the consultant has more knowledge of the subject matter than the client, they will likely still need guidance on the impact that the project will have on the policy and cultural issues that the performance improvement effort will have on both the micro and macro levels of the organization. Too often it is assumed that once the consultant has been hired they are now “Hands-off” until completion. It is only with a collaborative effort in the areas of project Content, Communication, and Management that your organization will realize maximum value from your engagements.
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