How many of your former classmates do you know are out there purporting to be consultants?
Would you even recommend them for work that be-fits their profiles?
Hiring outside consultants to do short-term projects is becoming more and more common, not just in business, but more frequently in NGOs, commercial businesses as it is government entities. As in-house resources become scarcer and impartiality is required, organizations and businesses are turning to consultants to get the job done. Hiring a consultant for the first time can be quite intimidating and selecting a credible consultant to do work for you will always be a tricky situation especially if they come highly recommended from you own usually trusted person!
With so many well marketed consultants to consider, it is becoming harder for clients to distinguish between those selling hot air and genuine business partners who can truly help a firm grow.
Some brief questions to ask as pointers before we add more value;
Who is a consultant?
A consultant is a person who has generally specialized in a particular area and is usually good at solving problems or doing research or exploring alternatives. A consultant usually works on contract and earns his/her keep by selling their knowledge or services for a fee. Consultants sometimes bring new ideas to businesses, projects and your organization can often learn from working with them.
Why are they so expensive?
They charge their services based on value and they tend to feel that their services are very valuable to you the paying customer.
What is the problem we are being faced with?
Sometimes the workload going on at the organisation is growing and with its growth comes unseen creeping challenges that easily manifest into problems. The knack to clearly separate the root cause of the problem from the symptoms is needed.
Do We Really Need a Consultant?
Before hiring a consultant, ask yourself if you can do it yourself, or if other help is available?
Can We Do it Ourselves?
Once you’ve answered the “do we really need a consultant?” question, you must decide if the people available can do the work internally. We can use this short checklist to help assess whether it might be possible to use in-house talent.
- Have you had a chance to look at the job to see if the organization has the skills required?
- Do the in-house staffs think that they would be able to do the job?
- Can you re-assign staff to work on the job?
If you answered yes to all these questions, then you could probably handle the job in-house. If you feel your staff can not do the job on its own, the next step is to look at other sources of help.
On the flip side however, not many organisations are able to handle all their on-going business challenges without affecting their current operations. And for such organisations, a credible external consultant is heavily recommended.
Once you have made the decision to use an external consultant, the delicate part of selecting one consultant out of a number of them comes up. These 5 points will guide you on how to select a credible consultant.
ONE: Look for relevant experience
Many times, we feel comfortable when we know that the person handling our problems has done it previously. We relax knowing that the ‘consultant” has relevant experiences that he is using to help find the root cause of your problem and thereafter fix yours with minimum fuss.
TWO: Insist on above average communication skills.
As a client who has a business problem, your role is to receive regular updates and communications that give you an inside track into how well/ badly the problem solving is going along. With this in tow, you are guaranteed a clear line when anything unexpected happens. This will allow you to not have to fire-fight, but rather anticipate any unforeseen challenges.
THREE: Ensure that the consultant has clear practical methods to help find a solution.
When I joined a consultancy practice in my second job placement, I was expecting to find academicians galore as they were the ones in my mind who had all the knowledge needed to carry out assignments. True as that may be, and with no disrespect to any academician reading this article here, theory differs a lot from practice. A combination is very excellent, but in most cases, practice will surely supersede theory.
FOUR: Always negotiate.
The “why are consultants expensive” question I posed earlier is no joke! Talk to any client who has engaged a consultant on a business challenge. Ask them if it was worth the payment. This will teach you to value “value” and not money.
FIVE: Keep focus on both relationship as well as the practicality of the solution
You ever heard about the options given when asked how to cut costs. The solutions range from extremely cold ones like firing the sales team and outsourcing to luke-warm solutions like no more newspapers. What is paramount is how the consultant reacts to your practical challenges versus his own solutions.
The bottom line is: did the consultant help the organization solve the problem?
Is your organization better off as a result of the services of your chosen consultant?
Choose consultants carefully and you’ll usually get the kind of end result you need. Always say exactly what you want. Supervise the work performed. Be demanding – but fair – about the final product you accept.
By Edmund Kamugisha
Edmund is the Engagement Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has 10+ years of management consultancy experience notably in MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry. You can follow him on twitter: @edmokmg