How you can maximize the benefits of working with a consultant

Don Currie, Senior Consultant with MRSB Consulting Services, provides his perspective on what you may want to consider when hiring a consultant or consulting firm to move your business or organization forward

Being a consultant is rewarding work, and in my 25 years in the industry I've worked with more clients than I dare to try counting. Through the years I've realized that there are a few areas which, if better understood, can make the client-consultant engagement more rewarding for everyone involved. Below are some broad questions you may ask as someone considering the services of a consultant, and my two cents on each. Enjoy!

 

Should you consider hiring a consultant?

This is the first question you should ask - and think about quite a bit - before inviting a consultant onto your team. Some typical scenarios where your organization may benefit from hiring a consultant include one or more of the following: 

 
  1. Your organization has a need for expertise in a specific area (e.g. marketing, operations, financial analysis or financing) and the need is time sensitive or considered to be relatively short-term (usually less than a year) with a specific start and end date.
  2. Your organization has made unsuccessful attempts at meeting its own needs in the past, or the results of previous attempts were not satisfactory.
  3. There is internal disagreement on the best way to meet a particular need. Engaging a consultant with previous experience in the area or one with strong facilitation skills can help in bringing about consensus.
  4. An objective perspective is required (e.g. to remove emotional or cultural barriers or strong biases within your organization).
  5. The work or task at hand is something that no one else either wants to do, knows how to do, has time to do, or a combination of these factors.     
  6. A funding or financing organization is requesting that a consultant be brought in to provide further information or justification for taking specific action, or to support a funding/financing request for a project.

 

You think you might need a consultant. What do you do next?

Most professional consultants will have an initial meeting with the client to discuss your opportunities, goals and challenges at no fee or commitment. Your specific opportunities or challenges might not be that well defined - this is ok! A consultant can assist you in assessing the situation. From this initial discussion the consultant will work with you to develop a terms of reference for the engagement that addresses your situation and specific needs.

The terms of reference you receive should indicate deliverables such as draft and final reports, when and to whom any presentations are to be made (when applicable), primary and or secondary research methodologies that are to be used, timelines to be adhered to and budget.  

 

You’ve engaged a consultant. How can you make sure you benefit from the engagement as effectively and efficiently as possible?

The benefit you receive by engaging with a consultant will increase with his or her understanding of your organization. Follow a few basic techniques to foster this understanding:

  1. Help the consultant to understand your product(s) or service(s), your market(s) and key stakeholders. One effective way of doing this is by providing them with existing, relevant documentation:

  • A copy of your most recent business plan
  • Strategic plans
  • Budgets
  • Policies and procedures manuals
  • Technical documentation
  • Financial statements
  • Organizational chart
  • Pricing policy
  • Distribution system
  • How your organization currently uses media and promotional materials

 

2. Give the consultant a sense of the overall nature and culture of your organization (be honest!):

  • Are employees considered to be independent or do they typically work in teams?
  • How are decisions made within the organization and by whom?
  • Are there known barriers or sensitivities?
  • How do staff generally react to change (i.e. are they typically supportive or resistant)?

3. Give the consultant a sense of the priorities within the organization today. Perhaps you want to launch a new product or service, increase sales or market share, be more efficient in particular areas or be more innovative within your sector.

 

4. Let the consultant know your preferred method (email, telephone, in-person) and frequency of communication.

Lastly, remember that open communication and a clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish will go a long way toward meeting your specific needs and ultimately improving your organization’s overall performance. Hiring a consultant is an exciting and rewarding experience, so take pride in the fact that you've reached a point where this is a possiblilty for your organization.