There’s always a time when you’re about to start something new — a new program within your organization, a new project or an experimental launch, or anything you’re attempting for the first time. There’s also that moment when you’re in a transition period. Perhaps you’re expanding or downsizing or moving key personnel across the board. Then there’s the inevitable, the one thing everybody prays never happens but still does — when there’s a serious problem within the organization, and worse, nobody from the organic staff can seem to solve it.
Who do you call?
But it’s not as easy as that. It’s not like there’s a fire a you call the fire department. Of course, you first need to consider three important things – the triple constraints, as project managers call them:
- Cost/Budget – Is money your concern? How much are you willing to pay?
- Deadline – What’s the timeframe of the project? Is it urgent?
- Scope of work – What exactly do you want the consultant to do? Is there a specific expertise you are looking for?
It’s important that you first answer these questions because the kind of consultant (and even the consulting firm) you choose depends on your answers. Under ideal circumstances – meaning, you have ample budget, the timeframe is flexible, and you’ve clearly outlined the consultant’s scope of work – choosing the right consultant won’t be a problem, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, you really need to identify your constraints before knowing what to look for in a consultant.
Granting you’ve already done that, here are the non-negotiables when choosing the right one for you:
- You’d want value for money. Whether you have a limited or more than enough budget, you’d still want to get what you’re paying for. As a general rule, find a consultant who can deliver higher quality services in less time. However, there is no formula in discovering that kind of consultant. Resumes alone cannot guarantee a consultant’s real value – there are plenty of them who have good credentials and ample experience but still perform no better than beginners, and vice versa. Interviews are a better indicator of potential fit, but make sure the consultant you interview is the one who will do the actual work and not just some stand-in. Sometimes, character and work ethic matter more than what you see on paper. It’s really more of a trial-and-error method, and if you’re a decent judge of character, you’d know which one to get.
You hire a consultant because you and your team rely on him or her to do something that you can’t. The consultant’s job is to deliver. Sounds simple, but it’s the number one quality needed to build trust and credibility among your organization and your clients. Find one who can accomplish both rote tasks such as taking down notes and organizing things and complex assignments that need analysis and other higher order thinking skills. You want these done without errors or a lot of supervision, and done consistently.
- Having Attention to Detail
This is when having that obsessive-compulsive streak is a plus. Having attention to detail is a necessity and is critical in consulting because everybody notices even the most minute mistake or error. If you want to build trust with clients, you’d want to show them you’re thorough and your recommendations are solid. The only way to do that is by producing error-free deliverables. Do this consistently and you strengthen your credibility in the market.
- Critical Thinking
A good consultant has the ability to focus on the tasks at hand; a great one can do the same plus think critically about the work. Critical thinking is more than just being prudent or doing the best thing or coming up with the best decision under the current circumstances; it’s being able to spend extra time rationalizing and weighing the factors and the pros and cons before coming up with a crucial decision. Sometimes, it may even mean challenging an existing set of rules or the boss’s decision if your sound judgment and/or analysis does not run parallel to it.
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Because there’s almost zero fool-proof way to know if the consultant you are talking to is the right fit for the job at hand, one way to get a feel of the person you are considering is by looking at his or her recent accomplishments of projects. It doesn’t matter if it’s related with the assignment waiting for him or her in your office, but it’s better if is. If the prospect has a streak of more than satisfactory projects, he’s worth taking. Beware of a list that looks like a mountain range with high peaks and low valleys – it means the person is not consistent. Look for consistency, not “explosiveness”.
No matter what others believe, word of mouth is still the best form of advertisement. When looking for a consultant, it’s best to ask from people and organizations your prospect has worked for. You know what to do.
Bonus : Check the Consulting Firm
If your prospect consultant belongs to a consulting firm, it’s best to check the company and what other clients say about it. Pore over case studies and white papers and other resources to get as much in-depth information as you can. There is no such thing as too expensive if the quality of work done is worth it.
Choosing a consultant may seem like a simple task, but it requires discretion and good judgment because of what’s at stake. The fact that you have to strike the right balance between the extent of the task and the rate you are going to pay, the qualifications and personal characteristics, and even what others have to say about each candidate makes recruiting them even more of a challenge. But if you follow this checklist and exercise due diligence, you’ll get one who will surely help your organization move forward.