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What this has allowed certain clients to do is make more efficient use of their departmental budgets to maximize the value and breadth and depth of the projects and initiatives they can handle. Projects that would otherwise be beyond their ability to fund had they used internal resources are now within their capacity to complete and fund. Without suggesting any underhanded or nefarious slight of hand in using budgeted dollars, smart managers have understood that it makes sense to use consultants in certain situations from an economic standpoint, resource allocation, and project management basis.

Appropriateness for a Consultant Before going off and trying to reinterpret corporate budgets and stating your case for how you can find ways to include consultants in your Why Use a Consultant? I have found it helpful to ask my clients that are wrestling with this decision to ask themselves these four questions: 1. Is this project critical to the organization?

Will the output or result of the project warrant the expense of doing the project? Is the project best served by using a consultant or can a better result be achieved through internal resources? Does the consultant need to do the project now, or is there no jeopardy or risk to having it done sometime in the future? In determining why to use a consultant, the last point to be made is to be sure that both the consultant and the client are clearly aligned as to what the reason or purpose is of having the project completed by the consultant.

There needs to be uniformity in the expectation as obvious as it might seem to the reader, it is not always known or the rationale for the project. Is the consultant expected to provide perspective and a worldly sense that is currently unavailable to the organization hiring him or her?

Will the consultant be expected to execute a workshop or produce an advertisement strategy? Is the consultant working for one or more executives a committee and therefore answering to multiple people? In making the determination why to hire a consultant, it is essential that the above be answered and shared, or there could be issues down the road in managing the project that were entirely preventable had each party known up front the answers to those questions. Refer to Figure A to help classify your thinking on why hiring a consultant would be an appropriate action to take. Figure B raises issues that might preclude hiring a consultant, and Figure C addresses the politics involved in hiring a consultant.

Are you distrustful that consultants have any basis for being expert in your company and your situation?

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Is this project not especially time-sensitive? Is it able to be delayed until other internal resources can address the issue? Does the project necessitate having a resource available to others within the organization at all times? Want the analytic vision of an outsider to ensure that management is including the best options in a decision they have yet to make 3.

Provide time to management or others to form a plan to address a mission-critical issue by acquiring better insight than they otherwise would have access to 4. Want to be aligned with a progressive leader author or other industry thinker to take a competitive advantage over others in the market 5. It is the ability to recognize ability. But how to best do that and take the steps to ensure success or at least minimize risk is not well understood.


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Just like the Battle of Waterloo was alleged to have been won on the playing fields of Eton, choosing a consultant requires preparation and forethought. What to Do The selection of a consultant will be greatly influenced by factors that the potential consultants for the assignment will not even be able to provide. Identify the desired outcome. The absolute first step to be taken is to identify what the end result of the project will be. This step is what drives the subsequent steps, so its importance cannot be overstated.

If you are seeking to improve morale as an outcome, your project will differ greatly than if you are looking to restructure your product pricing to keep it in line with current market conditions. Deciding this forces focus on exactly what is important. If I want to improve employee job satisfaction, do I measure absenteeism and therefore develop a project that addresses that specifically , or do I look to build a new incentive system a much different project?

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Define the project. The way the project is defined will immediately remove most consultants from consideration and will provide some with a competitive advantage over others. The catalyst for the decision to hire a consultant might be an immediate drop in performance or productivity, the anticipated introduction of a process or software application to support the work done by employees, or the loss of market share to a competitor.

However, within each of these general or global business concerns lies multiple project definition possibilities. Is the issue to be resolved one of selecting better-skilled employees in which case the consultant you hire should have a background in skill assessment, recruitment, or sourcing? Or is the project one related to improving the skills of existing employees to get them to perform better and therefore, the consultant sought should have experience in training design and development, adult learning, and related skills?

Determine the project requirements. One of the words that gets tossed around a lot when consultants and prospective clients talk with or about one another is the word scope. Scope refers to the parameters or boundaries of the project. Many consultants are often accused by clients prospective or ongoing of looking to expand the scope of a project prior to contracting in an effort to secure higher fees as the scope or parameters of the project increase, the cost to the client increases, and the consultant is provided with a larger contract.

Clients can then decide either to stop a project mid-stream because it does not make sense to continue or make changes to the existing agreement, allowing the project to move ahead with modifications. While these situations can and do crop up and are at times unavoidable, it is highly recommended that the project be clearly defined up front prior to a consultant being selected and that consultant commencing any work. As a client, are you prepared to offer or provide the following?

If these responsibilities are not confirmed and included in their 61 62 Quintessential Guide to Using Consultants agreed-upon project-requirement understanding, the opportunity for conflict and a poorly managed project increase exponentially. Assess the value of the project. Earlier we mentioned that among the reasons for pursuing outsider assistance is either the desire to offload work that could have been done by internal resources, but was strategically better completed by a consultant, or as a developmental exercise for less-experienced employees to learn from someone with greater experience in a particular discipline or skill.

Not many businesses were willing to view those projects as venues for employee learning and certainly were not going to permit project deadline extensions, as failure to meet a very real deadline in that situation could have led to dramatic negative impacts. They are also less likely to be delegated to more junior members of the consulting firm, as the visibility on these projects is usually such that it is too critical for both the client and the consultant to take a chance on the project not being handled by the best-matched resources.

Decide on the necessity for a cultural fit. Does he or she look and act the way management does? Was he or she educated in the same schools? A consultant who subscribes to one methodology or approach that is in conflict with the preferred business strategy and tactics of a client will usually not work well with the internal employees since their paradigms are so vastly different. It is only natural that corporate employees this really applies to people in general, but we are focused on corporate employees and its impact on them would prefer to work with people who are more similar to them than not.

The level of comfort one has with someone they identify with and share common viewpoints with is obviously higher than it would be with someone who was perceived as being dramatically different. Clarify and answer questions that are asked by employees who might not be as familiar or aware of your thinking and might misinterpret the rationale behind the necessity of a consultant as an assessment of their future. Or perhaps it is a decision that will be made by more senior managers, and employees will not be consulted on the selection, but will be expected to support it and work well with the consultant.

Vertical or Horizontal Expertise Consultants are generally classified according to two variables: 1. Vertical expertise 2. Horizontal expertise A consultant who is vertically focused is expert within an industry and is comfortable crossing multiple functions for project work. An example would be a consultant who is very adept in utilities and is adroit at handling marketing, engineering, and administrative function projects for utilities, but would be uncomfortable working in a media or market research company because those are foreign industries to the consultant.

On the other hand, a consultant who is vertically focused within consumer-packaged goods manufacturers might feel competent to address brand marketing, sales, and distribution consulting opportunities, but would be ill-at-ease working with the heavily governmentregulated utility industries. For example, they would not venture into consulting on improving diversity among managers, or managing the exchange rate of foreign currency.

Still other consulting firms use a hybrid approach and have their feet somewhat in both camps. They are conversant in a small number of industries and, within that, are competent at a smattering of functional requirements. So, you might have a consulting firm that is very strong in technology companies that also has a presence in financial services and pharmaceuticals, plus is well staffed for assignments using skills in marketing new item development, opening up new channels of distribution , operations manufacturing, distribution, logistics , and human resources staffing, development, organizational design.

Firms that practice this approach can reasonably ensure that you will receive high-quality consultative support as long as your project falls within their matrix of industry and function.

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Still other consultants do not define their contribution or even their work according to function or industry. They see their contribution as being more global or strategic in nature and, therefore, not constrained by these parameters. Futurists not people who look in crystal balls or recite incantations, but rather those who are more focused on current trends and their implications for the future see themselves on a different level of contribution than other consultants.