Looking for a consultant you can trust is not easy. If that’s where you are, then you’re in that same predicament that I was in during my past life on the other side of the table; the executive who has come to terms with the necessary evil of hiring a consultant. Maybe you have accepted that your project is outside the scope of your internal knowledge base, or simply that you just can’t allow the time it will take to use your own people. Regardless, you are faced with a tough question: “How do I find a good consultant?” There is a plethora of books, videos and articles on the subject of choosing the right consultant and if any of this can help you, I cannot say. What I can do however, is help you spot the good (and the bad) ones so your decision is one of strength, not a risky gamble.
Heart to Heart
Whatever you do or however you find them, collect a handful of prospective advisors and have a talk with them. A very serious and critical talk about who they are and how they work. Whatever project your organization has planned, it requires some level of change. Whether it is a small change or a full transformation, people (employees) are involved. I’m sure you have heard all the statistics about the low success rates of change and transformation projects (they average out at 30% –Standish , Gartner). It’s important to know more about what makes this person you may entrust the future of your company to tick, and if your clocks are synchronized. Also, you need someone with a strong history of successful projects under their belt. Try a question to them similar to the following;
“How will you be any different then assigning one of my highly qualified internal employees to run the project?
If they answer by just selling you on their super-duper processes, abilities, success stories, awards received in foreign countries, etc…. I hope you hit the buzzer and say “Next”. Of course, do this all in your head – don’t be rude.
The bottom line is that you don’t need a sales job, you need help. The good consultant answers your question with more questions. They should be most concerned with your company than their sales process. They will help guide you through probing your organization’s problem and need for the project. You should actually get some real and usable advice from the conversation. If they have the confidence and passion to help you and the organization to be successful, they should not be afraid to give away advice. Willingly supplied advice vs. hem-hawing; I know which candidate I would prefer. The good ones, the genuine consultants are willing to walk away from your business if it isn’t the right fit, or if you take their advice and run on your own – or if all the organizations leadership does not support the project. They are there to help you, not scam a new high paying gig.
Bottom line: this project of yours needs to be successful and the statistical odds are stacked against you. The consultant’s experience is one of the primary reasons you are even thinking about using outside assistance. You need to know their success is your success and not just a pay check;
“How likely is it that our project will be a success?” or more open ended, “How would you make our project a success?“
If you get lost in the answer it may have been full of boil the ocean promises and/or full of pre-emptive excuses to cover possible future failure. Check their virtual briefcase. They probably only have one life vest which is only for themselves… hope you can swim. The better answer is honest and realistic. Does their answer sync with the hard truths that are specific to your organization or even yourself? I myself would like to think a consultant who is not afraid to tell me the truth is willing to “live & die” with me in our decision making during the project.
Wanted: Change Agent Named Bond
Your project plans to update or transform the business will entail a large amount of change by the people who run the business. Plan on the fact that up to 80% of the project issues experienced will be caused by people. Did your shoulders just slump over like mine? “Dagnabit! employees, co-workers, bosses & leadership“,… are you picturing the probable and painful political issues which come along with this change? Time to pull out the big guns and contact ChangeAgent007.com. Wait a minute, lets think this through especially since that web site does not exist. Lets see what our consultants can do for us in reducing the painful people problems with change:
“Tell me about your experience as a change agent? What can you do to help us reduce our risk?
This answer is particularly vital. You should hear the consultant talk about the importance of recognizing this as a challenge. You should also hear something about the consultant’s ability to view the company with fresh eyes and work from a neutral position. This position allows them to state the hard facts and help with difficult decisions, something with which internal stakeholders may have difficulty in coming to terms. The right consultant will reduce the political sensitivities and at times take a bullet for you.
Successful change will be the most difficult part of any project. You want to hear stories about successful change. The consultant should, with confidence, share a story which failed. But they should follow up the failed story with the lessons learned. Everyone has fallen down and skinned their knee a few times, but from those experiences they learn how to not fall, or how not to skin their knee if they do fall.
Stay tuned for other conversations about finding the right consultant for your needs. Next time I’ll jump into another key question to ask a potential consultant. One that, having been on both sides of the equation, I have seen cost companies a lot of time and money if not asked up front. Cheers!