There’s a lot to engaging a specialist service provider or independent consultant. The rewards are personally satisfying when you get the right fit and right outcome. However, getting this wrong can result in reputational damage and cost, to both the business and you personally.
In my experience there are probably three key things to consider to ensure you make the right choice and get the best outcome when engaging an external consultant.
Determine the type of consulting role you need for this engagement; and how they will engage and work with your people and within your organisation.
Write a Flawless Brief to outline the requirements and key deliverables for the assignment.
Access the right channels to find, connect with and engage the consultant that meets this criteria.
In this article, we’re going to focus on point 1 because getting this right from the start will set you both up for success through to the conclusion of the engagement.
Determining the role the consultant will play
When we engage an independent consultant or service provider, we need to be clear on the role we want them to play and how they will use their capability. For example, some jobs require:
Specialist Subject Matter Experts: The role of the SME is primarily to use their expertise to design, develop or deliver the requirements specified for the business. We would be looking here for someone who has world class skills and is comfortable to be hands on defining the problem, assessing the solution and actually delivering the final outcome or product. This is really the end to end doer. They will typically work under the guidance of a senior executive/manager and may have limited exposure to the senior leadership team or Board.
Advisor: This role is a Subject Matter Expert engaged in an Advisory capacity to provide guidance to the organisation as to what the particular issues or problem may be and how they may resolve it. An example of this could be conducting a compliance audit of a specific piece of legislation applicable to the business and the action needed to bridge compliance gaps. They will generally work with internal stakeholders in an advisory capacity, with the internal delivering the solution and outcomes required.
Facilitation: This engagement requires a consultant to facilitate key stakeholders in how they approach or deal with a certain problem or issue faced by the business. It could range from an offsite team planning session to facilitating a discussion with specialists from within the business to resolve or address a certain business challenge.
Coach: An independent consultant with a subject matter expertise may be engaged to coach and mentor a team or individual to bring a particular performance, behavioural or leadership focus.
Training: This is primarily a development role where the independent consultant imparts their knowledge into the business via formal training sessions.
There may be other roles I have not covered but you get the idea! And it’s entirely possible an independent consultant may perform multiple roles, the SME and one other for example, as part of their engagement.
Being clear on the role you need a consultant to play brings focus to determining their organisational fit and alignment with the outcomes the organisation is seeking. One thing is clear, it’s essential that the organisation own the outcome of the solution, regardless the role the consultant plays in delivering it. And while the consultant may be an SME, not all are sufficiently skilled or can perform every role an organisation may require.
Working in your business or out of your business
Lastly, determining whether or not the independent consultant you engage to perform the roles outlined above will integrate and sit within a team inside your business is critical. This will mean some consultants are immediately excluded from your list of possibilities, or self-select out of the process just because they do not wish to work inside your business as part of an internal team.
Placing an external consultant inside a team within the organisation requires an additional layer of care and consideration. Can they effectively deliver the outcomes you need, how will they impact the dynamic of the team, who will they report to, what support will they need and much more. All very important and relevant considerations. And if the consultant isn’t required to become part of the team inside your organisation – then you are going to need to assess the ability of the consultant to build relationships with key stakeholders across your business, earn the confidence and the trust of the team and ultimately deliver the outcomes required.
Clarity on the role you need a consultant to play will enhance your ability to make the right choice at the start of the engagement, setting you both up to achieve the outcomes and success expected at the conclusion of the assignment.