CHOOSING THE RIGHT CONSULTANT FOR THE JOB: A GUIDE TO ENSURING SUCCESS WITH THE NEXT SPECIALIST THAT YOU BRING ON BOARD
Contrary to popular belief, any consultant that you hire is neither a super-hero nor does he/she possess super-powers. While they may have a great deal of expensive education, significant industry experience, and/or a powerful brand name, given the right (or from the client’s perspective, wrong) conditions, a perfect storm will be created that destroys all hope for project success. However, this perfect storm can be avoided if both the client and the consultant take some simple steps to prevent its formation.
Here, and in subsequent articles, I will identify the elements of this perfect storm, and examine steps that both clients and consultants can take to mitigate each element of the storm. I stress that both parties should be involved in the process because all successful projects emerge out of a strong relationship between the one with the problem and the problem-solver, and because a successful project is the one goal that both parties should always have in common.
Storm #1: Deciding on a solution before determining the problemOn TV shows such as ABC’s “Shark Tank” and in the rooms where venture capital pitch sessions are held, entrepreneurs are often scolded for selling a product that is a “solution without a problem.” While the entrepreneurial version of this phenomenon generally goes unsupported, the consulting version will often be funded, implemented/installed, and only derided later on when it is proven to be ineffective. This comes at great cost to the client (consulting fees, implementation fees, and removal fees) and the consultant (damaged reputation from client dissatisfaction). All too often, clients and consultants let their biases steer them towards a particular solution without fully examining all elements of the problem. Even worse, the demands of today’s fast paced environment lead to an impatience that places added pressure on executives and decision makers to skip or reduce time given to intangible evaluation activities so that they can get to the tangible solution designing and implementing activities faster. The latter are given more value because their deliverables are more palpable, and their costs are easier to justify.
Consider a situation where a consulting firm was brought in by a manufacturing company to develop a plan to upgrade a major computer system used throughout the company. The accepted assumption was that all of the production and safety issues experienced were because the facilities either did not have the new computer system in place and were operating manually, or were operating older versions of the system, which did not have specific upgrades related to record-keeping. The consulting team’s mandate was to simply design the upgrades for the computer system. As the consulting team conducted interviews with the system users and performed a deep-drill into the operation, they uncovered that the true nature of the problem lay with the processes related to obtaining the records that needed to be maintained. Therefore, the upgraded system would not have solved the true problem, and the manufacturer would have spent a great deal of time and money before finding out that upgrading the system was not the true solution to their problems.
Consultants should strive to be “Trusted Advisors” to their clients. This term implies reliance and confidence in the consultant and his/her advice. However, this confidence should earned and not just given blindly. In the same way one would be skeptical of a therapist that starts to dispense advice within the first five (5) minutes of a session, one should be similarly concerned of a consultant that is ready to execute a solution without a full analysis and determination of the problem.
Look out for my next article, in which I will discuss storm #2, “Lack of buy-in from key stakeholders.”
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Shahara Wright is an experienced and highly sought after business law attorney and business strategist. She is the author of From Entrepreneur to CEO and host of the CEO Collaboration Circle. Shahara founded The CEO Effect, LLC to work with small business owners who want to implement strategy to build capacity.