How to Select and Work with a Consultant
The profession of management consulting is focussed on adding value to client organisations. Whatever the specialty, the intent is to help clients ensure that their organisation can be more successfu.
To achieve these ends, it is important for clients to know how to select and engage a consultant and how to then get the most from the client-consultant relationship. If you are considering engaging a consultant to assist your organisation, the following points may be helpful.
Why Engage a Consultant?
Consultants are engaged for many reasons and being clear on what you want to achieve by engaging a consultant is an essential first step. Reasons for engagng a consultant may be:
- for independent advice from a professional with broad experience in the area or industry sector
- to bring a fresh perspective to an issue and provide, or help to generate, options or alternative solutions
- to provide access to a new or larger network of contacts
- an extra pair of hands to address a problem and potentially provide analytical or technical horsepower
- to help build internal capability through knowledge and skill transfer
- to be a change agent, especially where this role is either not possible or ideal for the client.
Selecting the Consultant
Once you have decided what you want to achieve by engaging a consultant, the next step is to find and select the right consultant.
The first step is to prepare a brief or scope of work. This should describe the outcomes and deliverables you expect from the consultancy assignment, timeframes and any other important information critical to undertaking the work. A clear brief will provide you with the criteria to select the right consultant for the job. It will also provide the consultant with the important information to address in a proposal which, together with the brief, will form the contract between yourself, as the client, and the consultant for the work to be done.
Selecting the right consultant. If you have not engaged a consultant to undertake this type of work for you or your company before, then the following may help:
- seek recommendations from trusted advisors, colleagues and business associates
- access preferred supplier lists – a method widely used in government and large corporations
- list your assignment with organisations such as Vendor Panel, or ServeGate (a preferred supplier member organisation that advertises consulting projects and tenders to consultants and consultancy firms)
- utilise IMC’s Find a Consultant’ directory. This lists all of our members, all of whom have been vetted to ensure they meet our strict membership requirements and are required to adhere to a Code of Ethics.
As well as determining that the consultant has the experience and expertise to do the work for you, it is important to assess whether their style is a ‘good fit’ for your organisation. This is especially important if the work requires sensitivity around potentially contentious decisions, speaking with key stakeholders and engaging with staff. Therefore, as well as assessing their credentials and experience on paper, a face to face interview is an important part of the selection process.
Assessing Consultant Proposals
Having developed your brief and selected consultant/s who you believe will be able to do the job for you, it is important to then request a proposal from each. The proposal serves several purposes and should:
- assist the client to make a decision about which consultant to select (if calling for proposals from more than one consultant)
- reflect the consultant’s ability to organise and manipulate data, deal with complex information and ideas, and demonstrate sound written communication skills
- demonstrate a sound understanding of the scope of work, the problem or issue to be addressed, the organisational context, the deliverables and/or outcomes, the timeframe or schedule, proposed steps and methodology in conducting the assignment, a schedule of fees, and terms and conditions
- contain information about the consultant’s skills and experience relevant to the assignment, and should also include skills and experience of any other consultants who may be involved in the team to conduct the assignment
- details of Professional Indemnity and Public Liability insurance, a confidentiality agreement or clause, reference to the Code of Ethics, certifications and standards accreditation, membership of relevant professional bodies including IMC, and evidence of other specific requirements such as quality systems in place.
Working with a Consultant
When working with a consultant, it is important to let them do their job for you but also to remain in contact and across the progress of the assignment at all times. There are some key steps that can help you to get the most from your consultant as they work on the assignment:
- ensure that they have timely and adequate access to the resources and people that they need to do the job
- agree a communication process with regular checkpoints to ensure you are up to date with progress, can manage any unforeseen hold ups without the need for micromanaging, and can negotiate any changes in the scope of the work that may arise
- understand and respect the consultant’s methodology and trust their judgement
- ensure important decisions are made in a timely fashion to allow the consultant to not only meet your timeframes but maintain the momentum needed for the outcomes and deliverables of the assignment to be effective.
In working with a consultant, as a client you should expect:
- professionalism, independence and confidentiality at all times
- a detailed plan or schedule of key steps or milestones, corresponding outcomes and timeframes
- effective communication to keep you up to date of developments and emerging issues as well as sharing of key insights
- regular progress reporting via an agreed regular communication process
- your assumptions and the status quo to be challenged
- that the agreed deliverables are delivered
- transfer of knowledge and capability.
Finally, ISO 20700:2017 Guidelines for Management Consultancy Services is a valuable tool for both clients and consultants to use. The Standard is a tool to assist clients in identifying and selecting professional providers that demonstrate good professional practices, as well as a means to evaluate services received. For consultants, it provides the framework that covers all stages of the consultancy assignment.
In conclusion, management consultants use their know-how to support clients to deal with important issues such as handling complexity, achieving sustainable organisational growth, innovating, achieving change and enhancing productivity. Through these activities, the management consultancy industry makes a substantial contribution to the local and global economy.