In previous posts, I’ve been exploring parts of the treacherous world of hiring a consultant for your business transformation. I must admit that my perspective has changed over time. For as much as I used to dread them in my previous life, as the executive hiring outside help for transformation projects, I came to realize that despite my internal objections, that they really aren’t all bad. Sure there are plenty of soul – and money- sucking vultures out there. But there are also the really good ones. The consultants who are really more like advisors. This better group want to – and can – make a tremendous difference for companies and individuals. They offer invaluable insight, keep their word about expectations, and don’t promise what they can’t deliver. Some are – dare I say it – ethical. Even more surprising was to realize is the tremendous those good ones can bring to an organization.
When I crossed over to become a consultant, I vowed not to be someone to be dreaded or feared; I wanted to make a difference, be honest, and be genuine. This is always in my mind when I work with a customer. And I love it. I get to help make a difference for a business and its future. Because I strive to be one of the good guys, I have put a lot of thought into what makes the difference, and how my previous self could have asked better questions to hire the right people. In my last post, I covered one of those questions about how they would be any different than internal staff running the same project.
The Business Transformation has to end sometime, right?
There are many questions to ask your consultant candidates, some which I have covered in previous posts. But there is one in particular I want to make sure to cover now. And it comes from my past life of bad consultant experiences. Have you had these thoughts before; “When will they be done?, What is taking so long?, Oh, I thought they were a full time employee here, What do they do again?”, and of course, “How can I get them out of here?”. Well maybe yours have been somewhere along those lines, and if you have not had these thoughts, then it is because you did a nice job developing the contract agreement regarding the “Exit Plan” up front. To tell you the truth I have not seen this mentioned in very many articles on choosing a consultant, maybe because they are usually written by consultants. But I highly suggest asking this question during your discussions. It is as simple as:
“What is your Exit Plan?“
It may feel strange to ask about an exit plan before you have chosen a consultant. But the responses you receive should clearly give you a good gut feel of the consultant to choose. Is there up-selling involved? Some level of sales pitch? Or you receive an immediate “yes, there is an exit plan” followed by generalities and misdirection discussion which makes all involved feel comfortable a plan exists even if you are clueless to what just happened. Again, as I’ve said in previous posts, the buzzer should go off (in your head, not out loud!). You need to hear something to the effect of the consultant working themselves out of a job. They should give you an idea of their general exit plan, which of course all parties together will customize in more detail based on the project requirements and measures. If they are fully committed to you and the organization’s success, then they will never sell to you, not even towards the end of the project. They will be clear about what exit promises they can’t yet make and what they can. They understand a successful project sets the stage for a partnership to grow into more of a relationship from which future opportunities will flow their way.
Final Gut Check
I would suggest completing notes after talking with each candidate to reduce the risk of a jumble of thoughts (“who was it again who said…?”). Here are some of my suggested points to pay particular close attention and comment in your notes when interviewing your consultants:
- Does the consultant posses the right knowledge and have the experience to support you and your project?
- Do they seem transparent?
- Admit lack of knowledge where they don’t have it, or other ‘weaknesses’.
- Give you ideas and free advise willingly.
- Come across as a genuine business partner?
- Will the consultant get dirty and work elbow to elbow with the employees within your organization?
- Does the consultant sound like they will be a facilitator or a dictator? Obviously the preference is for the former and hopefully a teacher/coach.
- How good a listener was the consultant?
- Did they come into the meeting already ‘knowing’ everything, or did they come in demonstrating that they had done their research but knew they had more to learn?
- Do you feel they are willing to break the norms… question the status quo?
If the first group of candidates don’t meet your gut check, it is okay to find new candidates. Don’t be tempted to treat the exercise as if your hiring a temporary employee which can be replaced at any time. Although it is true that is a temporary hire of sorts, it is not the POS seasonal position. This one really matters. You hold the cards but it does not mean you need to hold on a “pair“. Go for the “full house“. Or better. Your organization’s success depends on a quality find.
A final word on this… you know you have found the right fit for your needs when you find the ‘Royal Flush’ of advisors. In that case, you may find it very difficult to want them to leave, and maybe they shouldn’t if their value is so significant. In that case, you may find yourself looking for an exit plan followed by a retainer. But that’s down the road. Work on getting the royal flush first!