Working with consultants represents an important investment in moving your organization forward. You want to make sure to get the most out of it.
Sometimes, it makes sense to bring in an outside voice. Working with consultants has many benefits; you get the perks of working with an expert who brings their experience with other organizations like yours to the table without having to invest in a full-time salary and benefits. However, not all consulting engagements go swimmingly. Here are some simple tips for making the most out of your investment in outside help.
Find the Right Fit
Finding the right consultant for your goals is the most critical part of the process. When you have a job opening, you look at dozens (maybe even hundreds) of hopeful contenders. They’re carefully scrutinized and go through a rigorous interview process. You want to make sure they’re the right fit before offering them the job.
Consultants are no different. There are thousands of independent consultants out there, each competing for their own piece of the pie, and not a single one of them is the perfect consultant for any organization. Make sure you find the one that is the right fit for your business and your culture. You want someone who you can establish a long-term relationship with and who your team will love. If you think you’ve got the right person, bring them on for a smaller project before making a larger commitment.
A word of caution: too many organizations let cost be the deciding factor in the equation. Consultants who charge on the low end generally do so because they don’t know their own worth. They may even have questions about the value they bring to their clients. This is not what you want. Higher cost consultants charge what they do for a reason. If you make your decision based solely on cost, expect to get exactly what you pay for.
When you’re working with consultants, communication is key to their success, and to yours. Set a regular cadence for communication just like you would have with your full-time team, like a weekly check-in. These don’t need to be lengthy — a quick 30 minutes that is always on the calendar and rarely canceled. Let them take the lead and set the agenda, but come prepared with a list of questions relevant to the work you’re doing. Use every meeting as an opportunity to get a new piece of information or insight that will drive your team forward. This is the perfect time to discuss and brainstorm possible solutions.
Let Go of Control
One of the most surefire ways to waste your consulting dollars is to not allow that person to come in and work. Remember, you hired the consultant in the first place because they were better than you at something, or have insight that you do not or can push you forward in ways you can’t on your own. Consultants work with a variety of leaders and they can smell it a mile away when the person who brought them in isn’t going to give up the reigns.
Look at it from their point of view: at that moment, it becomes about triage. How can they get you the most value while still working within the parameters that you’re setting? If you’re micromanaging the process, they have much more restrictive parameters than if you’re letting go. Step back and see what happens. They may take you places you never would have dreamed up on your own. This advice is just as good for your full-time employees. If you want to make the most of their talent, you’ve got to empower them to own their area.
Be Open to Uncomfortable News
Part of letting go is to open yourself up to new ways of operating. Consultants are in a better position to stay detached from the day-to-day inner workings of an organization. That means you will likely hear an uncomfortable truth from them every now and again — things you may suspect (or even know) to be true but that those within the organization may not tell you. The task of remaining open to critical feedback for those in leadership positions is always a balancing act. Just remember that part of the benefit of investing in a consultant is that they are an outsider and bring the perspective of working across multiple clients. You want — even need — them to challenge you. If they deliver uncomfortable news, look inside and ask yourself what’s making you uncomfortable about it, rather than engaging in an instinctive push back.