One of the main benefits of using a consultant is to bring in expertise that your organization may lack. This expertise can help you to speed up a change, deal with a big challenge or develop a new area of work, so it’s important for your organization. You also pay for this service, in some cases a considerable amount of money. So, it makes sense to choose the right person and ensure they can deliver what you need from them.
I’ve been a consultant and trainer for the last few years and I’ve noted how successful and enjoyable the collaboration can be when the client is clear on what they want and need from the consultancy. This can range from being a fresh pair of eyes to look at a context/issue, to being a bank of good practice from the wider sector, to a thinking partner who coaches people through the work. It’s really useful if at outset the client can consider the kind of dynamic they are looking for and then discuss that with consultants who are being considered for the work, to assess whether it will be a good match. I’m happy to pass on contact details for clients who I’ve worked with in the past plus case study and testimonial information, but I’m surprised at how rarely this is requested. I think a lot of people are pulled into “guru” marketing and sadly end up with the delivery of a standard package that doesn’t address needs.
Another way that you can get better value for money is by ensuring you brief the consultant well on the context, aims and stages of the consultancy work. I find it invaluable to have an initial meeting/scoping phone call about the work followed up by email and then a detailed preparation call before planning the materials. More than once the situation had changed radically between scoping and preparation and so timely briefing is very helpful in getting the service you want. It also prevents the delivery of a standard package of materials due to the consultant only having a very general idea of what is needed!
And then there are the expectations around follow up. In many cases I think clients seem to expect that paying for a day of consultancy work means the support stops at 5.30. I think it is entirely reasonable and in fact desirable, for a longer-term dialogue to happen about the next steps for implementing the work inside the organization. My background in project management has shown me that if you don’t focus on the implementation process, change can be difficult to achieve. So a follow up conversation and plan is a good thing to put in place with the consultant.
In between training or consultancy days, there are big benefits to keeping in touch, be it by phone or email, as things change in organizations and the consultant can contribute to ongoing discussions about the work. A good consultant will also have a breadth of knowledge about related work outside the organization and so can bring different perspectives to the table. For me, this kind of updating and follow up should be standard and not charged as extra work, as it is part of delivering the main outcome for the consultancy package.
So, I think it can be beneficial to be more challenging and specific when dealing with consultants. From my point of view as a consultant, this makes the work more rewarding as well, as it helps me get closer to what the client needs from me and involves me more deeply in the organizational development.