Author: Sherry Perkins
The decision to hire consultative expertise is not an easy one and should not be made without careful thought. Contrary to popular opinion, the decision should not be based solely on the organization’s ability or lack of ability to perform the task in house. Many organizations realize that, while they have the skills in house to perform the task, they would be better served by hiring external expertise. Some have found it to be appropriate to use an external consultant when:
1. They would rather use their internal talent for tasks more closely related to their specific line of business
2. They are concerned that the external talent may be perceived as more objective, unbiased by knowledge of the organization’s culture, ideals, or practices
3. They are looking to make a significant complex change within the organization and may not be viewed as effective in driving the change as an external agent.
4. Knowledge of the inner workings of the company or organization are not as important as knowledge of the specific consultant discipline
5. The consultant is renowned in the field and his/her expertise is highly acclaimed
6. Knowledge of the inner workings of the company or organization is as important as knowledge of the specific consultative discipline, but there is time to bring the consultant’s understanding of the business to an acceptable level
How to Select a Consultant
Selecting an appropriate consultant can be equally tricky. In general, you’ll want to ensure the consultant has a good balance between knowledge of technical or business discipline and the ability to work with you and your leadership team. Here are a few characteristics that may help ensure the greatest chance for a successful relationship between the company and the consultant:
- Knowledge of the business or technical discipline on which consultative expertise is being delivered: strategic planning, team development, leadership, management, financial planning, etc…
- Credibility. The consultant possesses strong personal and professional ethics and integrity
- Superb communications skill. Possesses an adaptable style that can easily flex across all levels of the organization and in any complex situation. Is skilled in both oral (one-on-one as well as large group) and written communication. Effective in documenting the process and the results
- Strong emotional intelligence. Demonstrates the ability to manage personal emotions in such a way that they inspire a positive emotional response from others, even in the most difficult of situations or ones involving high levels of stress.
- Strong organizational and project management skills. Ability to plan and implement a large scale project that involves significant, complex change
- Ability to engage and inspire involvement and accountability for results. Exudes warmth, energy, and excitement with every encounter. Does not exhibit strong peaks and valleys in energy level that might be translated as apathy or indifference
- Can execute situational leadership, ranging from autocratic, to transformational, to servant leadership, as needed to accomplish the desired results
- Is generally friendly, approachable, and likeable. Tends to get along with most people without incident
- Presents an “all-in” sense of commitment to the project. Personal needs take a back seat to accomplishing the end goal. Is self-motivated, self-rewarding. Does not require a pat on the back to succeed. Does not mind sharing the limelight, spotlight, or credit
- Is not afraid to collaborate, confront difficult issues, or challenge the status quo
- Digs for facts and feelings. Ask the hard questions. Does not settle for superficial responses. Probes. Can diagnose and propose solutions
- Shows a genuine interest in the business, the people, the problem, and the solution
Selecting an ideal consultant is not always about how similar or dissimilar a consultant’s personality is to the hiring leader nor is it critical that the consultant’s personality mimic that of the organization. Differences in personality and style can often stimulate growth in the leader, the organization, and the consultant. However, it may be helpful for the consultant to understand the characteristics of the leadership and the culture of the organization. Psychometric assessments are available to help the hiring leader as well as the consultant understand what will be necessary for the two to work together. These instruments provide insight into learning styles, communication and reasoning abilities, energy level, requirement for regiment and/or supervision, level of sociability, vigilance, objectivity, response to stress and change, sources of motivation, environments required for optimum productivity, and inclinations toward detail and quality output.
I welcome your thoughts on experiences you have had with consultants and what you have found to be wise counsel in the selection and use of consultative experience. Please let me know in the comment section below.