When Life Gives You Lemons, Hire Consultants: Squeezing the Most Value from a Consulting Engagement

Contributed by:  John Nolan, Consultant, TayganPoint Consulting Group

PART I:  Before Your Consultant Even Walks Through the Door

Consultants and the support they bring are often the key to the success of many organizations.  A good firm can help drive strategy, improve effectiveness and provide a flexible workforce that is qualified, motivated and ready at a moment’s notice.   The drawback of having this highly qualified army at your beckoned call is the price.  Considering the tremendous investment involved with engaging outside consultants, it’s a wonder how poorly most are on-boarded and prepared for the work ahead.  This post will be the first in a series of what companies can do to get the most out of their consulting engagements and maximize their value.

Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting recently said there are upwards of 400,000 people working as consultants in the United States. The average consultant bills between $1,000-$3,000 per day, often in addition to the expenses they incur in travel and lodging.   With so much invested in their success what can you as a leader do to make sure they are hit the ground running the moment they arrive at your company site?  There are four key things to consider before a consultant passes through your front door:

  1. Statement of Work
  2. Technology
  3. Working Space
  4. Culture Fit

Statement of Work – Write It Down

Before the engagement begins, contracts are signed, costs and legalities are outlined, but there are a few key elements often left out of the SOW that should be included.

A good statement of work should be clear about what the consulting firm is on site to accomplish and what the expected outcomes of their work will be, both in the form of specific deliverables as well as the time provided for consultants to do their due diligence – ask questions, become familiar with key issues and make sure they fully understand what is to be delivered.   A recent report by the Standish Group stated that only 29% of projects surveyed can be considered successful by terms of meeting deliverables, deadlines, and budgets­.   A detailed contract protects an organization in case the engagement does not go as planned and acts as a reference point for specific milestones and deliverables that were or were not met.

Finally, while no one enjoys this phenomenon, consultants often change.   The people originally assigned to a project may be moved, leave the company or simply not be the right fit for your engagement.  By clearly defining the outcomes and deliverables up front, any new consultant coming onto the project will have a full understanding of what needs to be done and when.

Technology – What’s Your WiFi Password?

Spending time upfront addressing new consultant’s technology needs can save both time and money in the long run.   Too often, consultants arrive on site and spend days trying to get technology set up, frequently with limited access to the company’s IT department or help desk.   While many organizations have great tech services for employees, these are often hard to access for consultants and those tech resources may not be able to address issues outside their normal employee set up.   Having someone from technology onsite and available when consultants arrive may seem overkill, but it may save hours of work later as they won’t be struggling to get connected at your site.

Key questions to consider and discuss with your consulting firm include:

  • Hardware: Will consultants be bringing their own laptops?  Will they be provided by the consulting firm?  Or will the company need to provide them?
  • Communication and Accessibility: Do they require a company email address?  Will a VPN be required?
  • Security: Access to Printers, Internet, Intranet, company sites such as SharePoint, Yammer, Instant Messenger?
  • Set-up: Do you have clear instructions for setting each of these elements up?

Imagine arriving to a new office environment, focused on meeting organizational leaders, implementing strategy, and working to make improvements — all while trying to figure out how to network your laptop to printers a floor above you and gain access to SharePoint or the company network.  It’s easy to see how much precious time can be lost in the early stages of a new engagement.

Work Space – Are There Any More Chairs?

As silly as it may sound there are some physical work space questions that need to be addressed before consultants arrive on site.   Most of them revolve around the question: “Where are we going to put them”?  Again, in order to make your investment as productive as possible, make sure that there are desks, cubicles or a shared room where consultants can work.   If they will be in regular communication with senior leaders, it may be helpful to have them nearby or at least on the same floor as their most common contacts.   Once work spaces are defined, you should look to ensure that the assigned areas have working connections — electricity, phones, Ethernet, etc.  If you are anticipating four people to inhabit an area, are there at least four chairs in the room.   Consultants are a flexible workforce, they don’t expect window offices or fruit baskets, but paying them to sit on the phone with building services, trying to arrange a chair to sit in, may not be an effective use of their time and probably not what you have hired them to accomplish.

Culture Fit – “Those People”

While you may not be able to personally meet every consultant who will engage on your project, the consulting firm should provide basic profiles so you are at least reasonably familiar with who will be coming to your office.

Cultural implications may sound trivial, but they will have a significant impact on the success of your project.  New consultants, as they enter your organization, will have an impact at all levels.  They will assess, take action and leave behind a structure for continued success.  This format is perfectly acceptable to you as the project sponsor, but may not reflect the feelings of your larger organization who are wary of outsiders, or who fear that they will be replaced or rendered obsolete.  Both communication and sensitivity to cultural fit is key when selecting your team.

Anything you can do to help consultants understand your organizational culture — how to best interact with leaders, communicate most effectively, and implement changes within your unique norms and values, will save countless headaches in the long run and hopefully expedite the process of successfully achieving their hired goals.  If your organization struggles with straightforward communication or decision-making practices, alerting the consulting team to these challenges may help them quickly drive to address these issues in their own discussions.   A recent Entrepreneur Magazine article stated, “the likelihood of job turnover at an organization with rich company culture is a mere 13.9%, whereas the probability of job turnover in poor company cultures is 48.4%.”  While consultants are paid to stay, the fit between company cultures is important and will affect both how your employees interact with the new team and how they deliver on desired outcomes.

The hours spent addressing these elements may not seem particularly impactful on paper, but can have significant influence on the quality of your engagement – happy, productive, prepared consultants will walk in your front door ready to maximize their value to your organization.

 

One thought on “When Life Gives You Lemons, Hire Consultants: Squeezing the Most Value from a Consulting Engagement

  1. Joy Taylor

    What a great posting; thank you John Nolan!

    Being a consultant for many years now, it is always so shocking to spend days, NOT hours, literally days solving tactical and administrative items at a client site including such examples as: Getting a computer, getting a property access badge, access to the printer, finding a place to sit, finding a dry-erase marker (which is why I bring my own now), getting access to the internet – – which is a nightmare for most companies using a guest wireless option, and my favorite administrative time waster while on the books: showing up for the first two days of work, scheduled by them, only to find out they are not available for the first 5 hours of the day. But they want you there bright and early at 9 AM.

    We honestly want to be productive — always.

    Reply

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