Monday, March 25, 2013
Is There a Process to Choose a Good Consultant?
Have you wondered about the value of bringing in a consultant to help with organizational challenges? Have you thought that these outsiders might not understand the challenges to your organization as well as you do and that the learning curve for the consultant would cost more than any benefit you would gain?
As business life would have it, there will be times you will be faced with difficult challenges for which you will need the benefit of advice from someone with experience dealing with similar challenges.
Clearly, when the time arises to choose a consultant it will be important to choose wisely. There will be many consultants to choose from. They will come from large and small consulting firms and they will all have unique sets of bias and experience.
To help choose a consultant we have developed the following checklist:
1) Define the challenge. Can you articulate the challenge well enough to begin the search for outside guidance? Clearly if the goal is to get the right consultant and get advice that can be internalized by your staff, it will be critical to identify the cause of the challenge if possible. Identifying symptoms and not the cause can result in providing the wrong direction to consultants and disappointing results for the consulting arrangement.
2) Relevant experience. Which consultants have the most extensive knowledge regarding your challenge? Here it is important to do some research. It is not always the largest or best-known consulting firm that can provide a solution. To find a good consultant, it may be better researching the challenge and discovering solutions that fit your organization and then seeking out the architects of those solutions. In 1998 I was looking for ways to understand how introduce new programs for our customers when I ran across Clayton Christensen’s new book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. I really liked what he had to say in the book and the next time I was at Harvard I stopped by to visit him. I asked him to come to Houston to visit with my managers and some of my key customers. I consider his input a turning point in our ability to develop new products and improve our business processes.
3) Ability to transfer knowledge. Can this consultant provide assistance that can be internalized by your staff? If the guidance offered can be internalized by a company’s management team there is a good chance that there will be productive outcomes. If the guidance is too complicated to be incorporated by the management team it will result in a longer engagement for the consultant or short term benefits which will be lost when the consultant leaves.
4) Ability to define the scope of the project. Is the consultant willing to provide specific steps and time lines associated with the guidance that will be offered? Entering into a loosely defined agreement with a consultant will result in an engagement that will last longer than needed and may not address the challenge adequately.
Over the years I have engaged a number of consultants and I have found that when I used this checklist the consulting engagements were more successful. As a consultant myself I have found that it is better to advise the client to use a similar checklist even if it means they will opt for another consultant. I find that it is better for the long term when a client feels like they are getting the best advice.