Category Archives: Corporate Culture

Rules to Hiring Your Next Consultant (Part 3)

This is the last part of the series.  It is amazing how many people we can find to help us when we know exactly what we are trying to achieve and how our organization is likely to react to the changes.  Now that you’ve winnowed the list of potential consultants, it is time to find who will work best for, and with, us.

Rule #5 – Polish Your Negotiations

Keep in mind is that you are not looking for the lowest-cost consultant. You’re looking for the most cost-effective results.

Define clear performance expectations. They will help you and your consultant to succeed.

Can you finance the consultant from the cost savings you expect to see? Is this realistic?

Can you pay in stages, when you pass various (well-defined) milestones? What happens if you set a maximum payment for the project, and the work is incomplete? What happens if you pay by the hour, and the hours add up faster than results? Can you build in incentives for completing work ahead of schedule or under budget?

Look for any of these warning flags:

  • Incentives to not finish on time / budget.
  • Incentives that might bloat project hours or cost.
  • Milestones structured more for the consultant than for you.
  • Time frames that seem unreasonably long or short. There should be a logical explanation for the timing of your project.

Sometimes it is helpful to play dumb or naïve. If you suggest something contrary to the above rules or warning flags, what happens? Do you get good advice, or do you get taken? If you get the feeling that a shark has just smelled blood, perhaps this isn’t the best consultant for your organization. On the other hand, if the consultant courteously points out the danger of your suggestion, and offers a sounder approach, perhaps they will be as diligent when you hire him.

Rule #6 – Go With Your Gut

You’ve done a lot to get here: defined the problem; ensured that your organization is ready for the change; researched possible consultants; and sifted through to find the most appropriate ones for this job.  Following these rules will gain you a lot of information. Take your time, absorb the information and pay attention to what your gut is telling you about a particular consultant.

Remember, your brain does an incredible job of analyzing subtle, even subconscious cues. Your gut feeling comes from your brain’s analysis. Trust it. 

Now, stand tall and make your decision.


Rules to Hiring Your Next Consultant (Part 2)

Finding for the right consultant to achieve your goals becomes a lot easier when you have a structured plan to following.  In Part 1, we talked about defining the problem and establishing a supportive contact.

Rule #3 – Unearth Potential Candidates

Don’t get too hung up on particular credentials or levels of experience when you begin your search for a consultant. There are many good people out there. You are not looking for people with certain certificates on their walls. You’re looking for people who can help solve your problem.

Use key phrases from your problem definition (Rule 1, above) to search the web. Check the yellow pages. Talk to customers and suppliers. Talk to competitors, if you can.

When you have a reasonable number of candidates, it’s time to make a short list. Talk to references, and of course talk to your candidate consultants.

Include these questions when you interview potential consultants:

  • How did they learn the basics of this industry?
  • What approach sets them apart from other consultants?
  • What approach sets them apart from others with more experience?
  • What kind of challenges did they overcome to get results for their clients? How did they measure those results?
  • When have they failed, and how did they handle that failure?

The last question may be very telling. We all make mistakes and handle them in different ways. Can you work with someone who cannot or will not admit mistakes? Good consultants will acknowledge the possibility of errors in planning or execution – and you should feel confident that they would handle them with integrity and competence.

Overall, when you talk to the consultant, do you get the feeling that you’re both getting more confused? Or that everything is falling into place and a sound approach will be developed?

Rule #4 – Sift the Gems from the Dirt

You’ve made your short list and are looking into the candidates with more detail.

Is the consultant more interested in talking you into an easy sale of what they have (a particular software, methodology or widget, for example), or in working with you to uncover the truly relevant variables, and to develop an effective solution?

You don’t have to winnow the list down to a single best candidate.  In fact, there may be many that are qualified to help you solve your problem.


Rules to Hiring Your Next Consultant (Part 1)

Hiring a consultant is easy if you don’t care about the results.  Surprisingly, many companies have hired consultants that have cost them a lot of money and produced little of what they hoped to achieve.  Luckily there are six rules that can help make sure you hire the right person to get the proper results.  I developed these rules with a good friend and business associate, Roy Gawlick.

Rule #1 – Define the Problem

Detailing the problem you are trying to solve or the results you’d like to achieve helps to determine who can help you best.  Use these questions to help summarize the problem for the consultant and for you:

  • With what do you need help? Why is this problem important?
  • What is going wrong? What is going right? What results would you like to see improved?
  • What are the costs and benefits of action – and of inaction?
  • Is this an urgent problem? What are the time constraints? What other constraints do you face?
  • Who are the key players and decision-makers?
  • What resources (funding, equipment, suppliers or customers, staff with particular abilities or corporate memories…) are available to help implement a solution?

Remember, if you have a difficult time defining the problem, you will have a difficult time identifying the solution, and the right consultant.  But don’t try to make this step perfect. What you really need is a starting point, so do the best you can with the time you have. You may even find that you need one consultant to help define the problem and a different one to find the best solution.

Rule #2 – Be a Good Client

Make sure the consultant’s key contact with your organization has the authority to approve or reject work in progress, and to arrange support within your organization. If your organizational groups are not all on-board, it will be hard for the best consultant to make any real progress.

  • In your organization, who suffers, and who benefits, from the current situation? Who will suffer or benefit from change? What incentives are there for individuals or groups in your organization to support the consultant? What incentives are there for them to oppose the consultant?
  • Will your staff have or make the time to help the consultant identify issues and implement solutions? Or are they too caught up in their regular duties?
  • When the consultant needs approval for an issue that will affect groups differently, how will your organization make the decision the consultant needs?

What’s in a Title?

I’ve been called a change agent, king builder, facilitator, trainer, marketer, father, friend, confidant, mentor, and probably a dozen other names.  The problem with these titles, as you might imagine, is that they don’t really say what it is that I do.  They all contain pieces of what I do, but none describe everything that I do. 

If you think about it, this is true of anyone’s title.  Does knowing a person is the president of a company tell you what they do?  We all guess they are in meetings a lot and talk about… what?  Unless there is some connection with that job – we just don’t know.  How about manager?  We suppose people are involved, although there are managers who only manage themselves.  The title doesn’t tell us what they do nor how they do it.  I was called a project manager for a number of years and yes, I managed projects but that doesn’t tell you anything about what kinds of projects, what issues I had to deal with, how large the project was, or any other detail.

The most interesting things about titles is that most people aspire to have the next title and companies look to hire people who have had certain titles because they assume, and hope, that will mean the person will be good for their company.  Sidebar: I’m aware there are a number of hiring people reading this right now and grumbling that it’s not what they are looking for in new employees; they want people who will fit with the company culture and will be an asset as soon as possible.  I agree with this statement while also asking about the process leading up to the interview, where you are looking for the good fit.  Are you interviewing everyone who sends an application/resume?  If not, how do you determine which resumes to look at?  Usually this involves some filter based on titles and credentials.

My point with all of this is not to argue for or against titles.  They are a part of our world.  The question isn’t what I call myself but how I do what I do for others? Whatever it is you need starts with me listening.  I listen to your words; the way you say the words; references to other things and I ask questions.  I start from the position you are smart, passionate, and want to succeed – oh yes, I also believe the answer is probably already inside you and my job is to find it and coach it out.  Believe it or not, I’m not an expert in all the fields I help people with but I am an expert at pulling expertise out of people.