Three Ways Clients Can Optimize their Consultant Experience

By Shawn Plaster, CEO

Congratulations, you finally have an approved budget and a statement of work to bring in an experienced consultant. In fact, you have been lobbying for months that your team needs someone who has the skill set and lengthy track record of success to solve one of the more complex problems on your roadmap. The interview process was lengthy and intense but even the naysayers agree the consultant you selected has the background and personality to make the project a success. All you have to do is onboard her as quickly as possible, introduce her to the team and let her “work her magic.”

During the kick-off meeting, you instruct your team to make time for the consultant to ensure that the initial on-boarding is successful. The consultant sets up a weekly check-in meeting, which you requested but often cannot accommodate due to a busy schedule. The members of your team also ignore the consultant’s request for time, citing competing priorities. Along the way, a material change of scope occurs from the business stakeholders. You provide a verbal one sentence description of the change to your consultant as you pass each other in the hall with the promise of more information but it never comes. The consultant does her best to incorporate the change and raises the concern in the weekly status report that she needs more direction/input/access to key resources. As the project approaches its halfway point, you make time to see how things are progressing and discover the consultant is off the mark. Disappointed by the absence of critical results, you decide to roll the consultant off the project because she simply “doesn’t get it.”
Unfortunately this scenario repeats more often than it should in consulting. As much as consultants pride themselves on their ability to overcome great odds to solve significant business problems, and deliver a project seamlessly, sometimes their ennvironment is set up for failure from the start. Our recommendations focus on effectively avoiding this scenario by adopting three ways to optimize the consultant experience.

1) Get Ready to Set the Stage

The parameters for successful projects and partnerships are defined well in advance of bringing in external resources. Before interviewing and engaging a consultant, make certain you and your stakeholders define and document what is critical.

Start with:

  • Project Charter & Scope
  • Define desired approach, expected deliverables & timeline
  • Highlight the importance of budget if necessary
  • Define desired results, highlighting what success means
  • Promote organizational readiness, ensure your team is ready
  • Involve internal stakeholders in the decision making process
After defining the project charter and scope, plan on investing time upfront to provide your consultant with as much history and context as possible.Include your perspective about potential pitfalls and pot holes to look for along the way. Be as candid as possible about past failures, including strategies and tactics which did not work for your organization. Describing challenging personalities of key stakeholders is also extremely helpful. Make time for daily or weekly check points to answer questions and share timely information about the project and organization.

2) Integrate the Consultant with Your Team

Have you properly positioned your consultant with your team? Have team members been given guidance from you on how to interact with the consultant in relation to sharing information and attending key meetings? Is this guidance in line with the defined project charter, scope and success factors? Is this occurring in practice or are folks “holding back” information and access to key decision makers?
By making every effort to define roles and responsibilities for the consultant and team members you eliminate muddied expectations. If roles are unclear, you risk misunderstandings, errors, duplication and expensive project delays. Team members may feel threatened if they do not understand the consultants’ role and may deny access to information or support necessary for successful project execution. Consider in advance where internal staff may be unable to support the project (due to other responsibilities such as year- end close, seasonal operational spikes, etc). Communicate internal and external roles to all stakeholders. The more empowered consultant is likely to go above and beyond if they feel like they are a part of the team.

3) Communicate Well and Do it Often

Clients frequently acknowledge that they need help but hold back on sharing information for a variety of reasons. Realizing that your consultant is not the same as an auditor is critical to your success. She needs you to share important details surrounding an issue in order to help you do more. Holding back information will only delay the project and possibly lead to inaccurate conclusions and recommendations. An experienced consultant has likely seen this situation before and can provide guidance and expert knowledge to help you move past any roadblocks. They cannot bring their expertise to bear if they are not guided in becoming knowledgeable about your specific business problems. Our advice is to communicate effectively so to fully utilize the expertise you are paying for!