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What Your Consultant Wants You to Know (but you never ask)

I've been both a CEO and a consultant, so I've seen from
both perspectives what goes right and what goes wrong when a
consultant comes in to a company. Generally the CEO or the
manager who hires the consultant tells the consultant what
he or she wants. Often the manager is frustrated with
something that is happening at the company and expects the
consultant will have the expertise to "just fix it". While
the manager needs to set the expectations, of course, the
consultant rarely gets to voice what he or she knows would
make the consulting engagement more successful for both.

Here is what your consultant would love to tell you about
making him or her successful working on your behalf:

1. Please Do Your Homework before I Come In

Too many owners and managers hire a consultant and then stop
thinking. They present a list of general problems and expect
the expert to conjure dramatic results. This approach almost
always ends in frustration and many, many billable hours.

Instead, you have to take the initiative and stay involved.
Discuss your needs, problems, and parameters in candid terms
from the start. Set a budget or schedule upfront for each
project a consultant tackles. Save your skepticism (or your
staff's) for the interview process; once you've chosen a
consultant, give him or her the benefit of everything you
know and access to all important information.

One of the biggest costs in hiring outside expertise is
bringing the consultant up to speed on your company's
operations. If you can prepare reports and numbers
internally, you can help the consultant stay away from data
gathering and other basic reporting functions; keep the
consultant focused on analysis. You can tabulate numbers
yourself; you've hired the expert to help you move forward
from there. When you hire consultants, keep in mind that
their most important skill should be critical analysis and
problem solving.

Another point to consider is that many consultants have a
steep sort of half life as to enthusiasm for a project. They
are consultants because they like variety. In other words,
their best thoughts and greatest creativity come early in
their relationships with clients. Being prepared from the
start allows you to take full advantage of short attention
spans.

2. Please let me stay focused on what I came in for and keep
the distractions and new requests to a minimum if you want
me to stay within your original budget (or expand the budget).

A consultant's expertise is so welcome in certain
environments that they number of projects multiplies beyond
the hiring manager's original intent, but often with their
knowledge. The original project may be just the tip of the
iceberg of problems within a company, some of which are best
solved by a consultant but many of which are best hired
within the company after working with the consultant to
develop a plan.

Like any outside contractor or vendor, consultant services
are a commodity—and consultants want to sell as much of this
commodity over as long a time as they can. That's their
understandable inclination as business people. However, it's
your understandable inclination as an owner or manager to
minimize the amount you pay them.

The consultant may be right to say there aren't quick fixes
to serious problems, but don't let that lead to open-ended
engagements. Most consultants agree that restructuring
involves two phases: a design phase, in which new ways of
doing work are fashioned, and an implementation phase, in
which the new ways of doing work actually are put in place.
Have the consultant schedule these phases. This helps set up
an exit strategy for the consultant, which is an important
cost control tool. In addition, the consultant will see the
project as a limited engagement, rather than open ended.

3. Please set regular times to meet so that I have access to
the person who hired me to get clarifications and not waste
your time (and not waste my time).

Set regular times to meet (weekly or monthly) when the
consultant will review conclusions, answer questions, and
challenge you on better ways to run your business.

Make sure these are working meetings. Avoid meetings that
turn into administrative updates. By meeting with the
consultant regularly, you can compartmentalize—and better
control—the amount of time you spend with him or her. It
also forces the consultant to be succinct and not draw on
too much of your time. In this context, you can expect more
from a consultant than from an employee. The consultant's
attention should focus squarely on problems you're paying
him or her to consider, not on operational details.

Remember that you are paying bigger dollar amounts for this
help, so you don't want a consultant to be billing you for
time in your office unless you are using that time wisely.
Too many times employees don't understand how a consulting
arrangement works – they want the consultant to be available
to them during their working hours. Consultants shouldn't
be at your company every day where they can be distracted.
They should only be there in order to meet with other
people. Otherwise, they need to be doing their analysis in
the peace and quiet of their own offices.

4. Please Don't Kill the Messenger

The manager or CEO who hired the consultant may be very
excited at the beginning of working together and feel like
he or she just unloaded their burden onto some capable
shoulders. Then the consultant prepares an analysis and the
recommendations all rely on additional work to be done by
managers and employees inside the company. The
recommendations may also involve actions that aren't fun to
carry out, such as demoting or terminating non-performing
employees. They may call for additional reports or extra
meetings. Expect that the consultant will come to some
conclusions you won't like immediately, but they may be the
only way to end some long-term problems.

In conclusion, when you keep consultants disciplined and
focused, you can use them to great advantage. Be clear on
the purpose of hiring the consultant and what you can and
can't expect their work to produce. Up front clarity will
lead to a productive and valuable relationship.

Jan B. King is the former President & CEO of Merritt
Publishing, a top 50 woman-owned and run business in Los
Angeles and the author of Business Plans to Game Plans: A
Practical System for Turning Strategies into Action (John
Wiley & Sons, 2004). She has helped hundreds of businesses
with her book and her ebooks, The Do-It-Yourself Business
Plan Workbook, and The Do-It-Yourself Game Plan Workbook.
See www.janbking.com for more information.




 
This article was submitted by - Jan B. King Please Rate/Review this Article - Recommend it to friends

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