Consulting is one of most accessible entrepreneurial professions in the world – almost anyone can set up a business at minimal cost and use the job title “consultant” to sell their services.Herein lies a problem for businesses buying consultancy services, and is arguably the reason some consultants have received a bad press in the past. So how can you spot the difference between a professional consultant and an opportunist?
1. Check you need a consultant firstBefore recruiting, a client should be clear whether they truly require consultancy support or whether their need is simply for “resource”. They should also double check that no one within the company is capable of undertaking the project before initiating the recruitment process.
2. Plan, plan and then replanEvery aspect of the project needs to be scoped out, with expected outcomes before the interview stage. This will ensure expectations are set and the brief is defined fully and can be communicated clearly from the start. A successful consultancy project is one that is meticulously planned and managed well.
3. Shop aroundInvite quotes, tenders or formal proposals from a number of consultants to get a clear understanding of who is out there, how they would respond to the brief and what they would charge. Testing the market is key to getting the consultant at the right price.
4. Interview checklistMake sure the consultant demonstrates a full understanding of the business issues based on the brief and can deliver to meet the deadlines. Check if they have specific experience and a track record in the industry of solving similar business problems, supported by good client references.
5. The costsThere should be no “surprises” when it comes to costs. Be clear from the start what the consultant will charge and what they will deliver for this money and make sure you understand if the fee includes expenses or not.
6. Beware of “consultant speak”Steer clear of consultants overusing jargon and clichés. Anyone who wants to “drill down” into the business, tackle the “low-hanging fruit” and ensure “we are all singing from the same hymn sheet” “going forward” is probably best avoided.
7. Check for professional qualifications and accreditationCompetence-based accreditation by professional bodies is a useful indicator of a consultant’s ability to deliver. In management consultancy, the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) award is the only globally-recognised “kite mark” of professionalism in consulting and is awarded by the Institute of Consulting only to consultants who can demonstrate successful experience and practice in consultancy. We will soon be launching a National Register of professional consultants which will be a good starting point for any company hiring a consultant.
8. Will they fit in?Does the consultant understand the business culture and would they communicate well with your employees and business managers? A good consultant will be deft at building relationships quickly with all employees. Introduce them to people they will be working with and get their feedback before making a hiring decision.
9. Appoint a project managerA good consultancy project is one which is managed well. Appoint a project manager responsible for the consultant who can work with the consultant to ensure the project stays on track.
10. Don’t let scope creep inAgree project boundaries and limits and an exit plan. If the project needs to be extended then it should be as part of a formal contract; do not let scope creep in. There are important considerations when hiring consultants. We are working to raise standards of professionalism in consulting and have developed a guide to buying consultancy services and best practice behaviours that organisations should expect from consultants. Huw Hilditch-Roberts is director of the Institute of Consultants.
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