Working with consultants: Lesley’s 5 tips

I’ve come across many different approaches to working with consultants. There’s a difference between contracting, process consulting and expert consulting. Either way, in my experience, the following five elements will help you get the most value out of working a consultant.

  1. Define outcomes. Think about what you want to get out of your collaboration with this consultant. When they leave, how will you and your organisation be better off? In contrast, if you ask for something specific like a workshop or an assessment, you may prevent the consultant from really thinking about your desired outcome and leveraging their own experience in defining how that outcome can best be achieved. In other words, ask for the “what,” tell them the “why,” and let the consultant determine the “how.” I’ve had clients ask me to “run a workshop,” or “develop a strategic plan,” when really what they needed was something totally different. I let them know, and we discussed their real objectives, which got us to collaborating on the mandate in a way that would deliver sustainable results.
  2. Leverage the consultant’s expertise. You’ve hired external help to have a fresh look at some of your strategic questions. You have lots of experience and know your company, your industry, your products, your people. The consultant does not. They have their specific expertise which can be very valuable to you, as long as they are given a chance to have a look around, talk to people, and give you their honest opinions.
  3. Ask about their best work. What factors made their best work so great? What did they personally do – and what did their client do – to contribute to that mandate’s success?
  4. Check references. Look into who they are and what they have accomplished. How are they keeping current with their area of expertise? What conferences do they attend? In my case, strategic planning has changed significantly in the 20 years since I started working in the field. Had I not pursued my own development, my clients would be using tools and approaches that were 20 years old. What do others say about their work? Ask your peers and their prior clients. Look at their recommendations and client testimonials. Remember that this goes both ways. Great consultants care about who they work with, and they will look at your profile and your organization’s before agreeing to a collaboration. I do this myself before collaborating with anyone, including potential clients.
  5. Recognize your responsibilities. The consultant cannot work in a vacuum. They cannot achieve success with your team if you have not made your vision relative to their mandate clear. No consulting mandates are universally accepted by everyone in an organization. Therefore, in order to execute successfully, consultants need your support as a sponsor and as an advocate.

In the end, a great consultant must be a great collaborator who cares about you, your organization, and achieving great outcomes. The best consulting mandates I have ever taken on have the five things outlined above in common, and are underlined by mutual trust and respect.

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