When Life Gives You Lemons, Hire Consultants: Squeezing the Most Value From Your Consulting Engagements Part II: The Honeymoon Period

Contributed by:  John Nolan, Consultant, TayganPoint Consulting Group

All the pre-work has been done, the contracts signed and consultants are on their way.   These next two weeks are crucial to getting these new assets up and running.  Responsibility lies with both parties, but the honeymoon period is short and no one wants to come out of it wanting a separation from their new partner.

The good news is that consultants are experts.  They are used to learning and adapting to different communications structures, leadership hierarchies, company cultures and working environments.   A good consultant can thrive in almost any environment.  Unlike the normal new hire, they are not looking to establish themselves, and they won’t be bringing baggage from being let go from a previous position.  What they are looking for, however, is your support as they get up to speed and begin creating positive outcomes for your organization as quickly as possible.

Where the average employee can take up to 90 days to be on-boarded correctly, a consultant should be able to be productive in less than 5 days.  They key is to focus on the four C’s:

  1. Content
  2. Connections
  3. Culture
  4. Communication

Content – What can we read on the plane?

While the best case scenario is having consultants that arrive as experts in your industry, with deep functional experience, and full understanding of the intricacies of your projects, that’s probably not going to be the case.  So often, deals are struck by someone with knowledge of your organization – you’ve spent time outlining and discussing your business challenges, but when the time comes to actually staff your engagement, this is not the person delivering your solutions.  This may sound like a case of bait and switch, but it isn’t.  A change in staffing is based on a variety of factors – many of which are aimed at providing you the best possible resource to tackle your specific challenges.  Reasons range from who is available from the firm, specific expertise relevant to the engagement, and finally, what you are willing to pay.  But regardless of who walks in the door, you should be prepared to bring them up to speed with pre-reading content.

You can assume that any consultant will have read about your company, basic news, leadership shifts, the industry, and marketplace changes.   This high level information is great for background, but anything you can share related to the project itself, key deliverables, project plans, and presentations will be crucial to success.   Remember, consultants want to be prepared – they will review what you share and will come in ready to work.  Don’t let them spend their first week on site reading content they could have read on the plane coming in.

Connections – Who do we need to know?

Once consultants are on site, it’s key they begin meeting with team leaders, subject matter experts and the larger team to learn more about the project, assess the current status and begin defining a plan of action.   A small amount of work ahead of time to get these meetings scheduled will make an exponential difference in ensuring consultants will meet with the key project players in a timely and efficient manner.

If they have to come in and schedule these meetings themselves, it may take a week or more to coordinate calendars, especially since these key contacts are receiving emails and communications from someone they don’t know yet.   Set meetings help consultants develop base information as well as begin the process of establishing relationships they will need across the organization to influence and make progress towards their intended goals.

Culture – Yours or ours?

In most cases consultants will be coming from an organizational culture that is very different than yours.  It is important to outline what is expected as these two cultures begin to interact.   While a good consultant will adapt to your culture, they can also use their influence to begin to shape their environment.   As part of the engagement would you like consultants to share best practices with your teams or meld and adapt to current practices?

A simple example is defining expectations surrounding meetings.  The inclusion of an agenda, sticking to it, and defining next steps and responsibilities can have a drastic effect on the success of a meeting, but will people tolerate this?   What should consultants know about the organization and the team before they start?   What subtle areas would you like them to influence beyond their defined statement of work? Consultants are paid to push you and your culture forward.  Help them to enable this, so you can grow as an organization.

Communication – We should talk

Once a single consultant or team are on site and working it is important that you schedule regular check-ins with them over the first few weeks.   These sessions will allow you to communicate new things that you are learning, give them feedback about their early performance and learn how you might be able to support them in their meetings or early plans.

You need to know what issues they are encountering and what their plan of action is.  If you don’t check in you can’t be upset a few months later when progress is not on track or has diverted from what you feel is most important.   A two-way communication between you and your consultants will be key for their success as well as yours.

Following just a few of these suggestions can make all the difference.  It will lead to a happier marriage with the consultants you are bringing onboard.  By supporting them through the first two critical weeks, you will enable them to engage immediately with the organization and project team, capitalizing on your investment in their services.

One thought on “When Life Gives You Lemons, Hire Consultants: Squeezing the Most Value From Your Consulting Engagements Part II: The Honeymoon Period

  1. Joy Taylor

    Great second article in the series with outstanding content about using consultants. Thank you for encouraging the “pre-planning” because as a consultant, we truly do want to hit the ground running. We want to make a difference and be the experienced arms and legs to carry the organization over the rough terrain.


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