So You've Hired a Consultant …

Once you’ve decided to hire a consultant, how can you be sure that the project meets your expectations? That it doesn’t get bogged down by personnel or other individual issues outside of the scope? That the recommendations are implemented? Successful projects require a partnership between the organization and the consultant. Consultants are obligated to be clear about the services they will and won’t provide, what the end product will look like, the cost of services, and how cost and time overruns will handled. But we need your help to make sure the project achieves results that are relevant and enduring. For their part, clients will get better results if they work with us to:

  • Honestly assess their leadership and organization styles;
  • Articulate as precisely as possible the project goals and expectations;
  • Develop a clear and effective consulting relationship; and
  • Allow sufficient time for the consulting process.

Self Assessment: Clients should share their candid assessments of the management teams’ leadership styles and the organization’s culture and history. Projects may fail if consultants are ignorant of these factors. For example, there may be personnel conflicts which are not made explicit and which, unrecognized, can compromise the success of the project. Although we need to learn as much as we can about the organization's culture, we have to be careful to avoid having these issues overwhelm the project (unless they are its focus). They instead provide useful background and context.

Clear goals: Clients and consultants should set clear project goals and a schedule for monitoring progress. This can be complicated when leadership is shared (e.g., between directors with interconnected responsibilities). If the leadership team is not clear about its goals before the project is launched, it is much more likely that the recommendations will not be implemented. This sends a message to staff who participated in the project that their time and input is not valued.         

Agreeing further on those issues not to be included in the consultant’s assignment reduces the opportunity for individuals to use the consulting process to further their own goals. The form in which products will be communicated (e.g., orally, through periodic briefing memos or a more formal report) should also be decided at the onset of the project.

Consulting Relationship: Even though consultants meet with a wide range of staff, one person should be designated to communicate with the consultant about implementing the project. This sends the clear message that the project is supported by management and insures that problems are dealt with quickly and effectively.

The last thing most employees want is to have to deal with the data and time demands of a consultant. Management needs to communicate staff assignments and make sure that people attend and prepare for meetings.

Sufficient Time: The consulting process takes time. At the front end, time must be set aside to set project goals. Time also needs to be built into the project schedule to consider how written reports or the outcome of a group process will be disseminated. After the sometimes lengthy data gathering stage, it can be tempting (for both the client and the consultant) to rush a project to completion. By taking time to announce the project results in a thoughtful way, we can jointly increase the likelihood of implementation.

Authors: Kate Harrison and Jessica Fiske Bailey