Friday, January 9, 2009

Essential Guide to Hiring Consultants. What Consultants Do, What Roles Consultants Play, Reasons to Use a Consultant.

A Field Guide to Hiring/Using Consultants

What Consultants Do
Before we outline the kinds of services an outside consultant can provide to a company or an organization, let's look at what a consultant considers to be his or her overall responsibility:
1. Define the problem.
2. Break it down.
3. Understand the business context.
4. Gather and analyze data.
5. Work with the client team.
6. Make recommendations.
7. Implement solutions.

The Roles Consultants Play
A consultant is called upon to provide technical training, coaching, facilitating, or subject-matter expertise. Let's look at eight broad consultant roles:

Technical expert. A technical expert does not necessarily work with technology (although an IT consultant certainly does). I call a technical consultant an experienced "pair of hands" because his or her value is in the "been-there, done-that" expertise. Technical experts might include manufacturing experts, scientists, programmers, and engineers. Technical experts bring a proven step-by-step framework for exactly what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and when to make exceptions to the rules.
Mentor. The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines a mentor as "a trusted counselor or guide." Sometimes a consultant is brought in to act as an older, wiser, more experienced individual who helps and guides another individual's development. Mentors usually work with clients individually, but can also mentor work groups, entire departments, or senior leadership teams.

Coach. A coach is someone who provides structure, accountability, and perspective and who will hold you to your commitments to move steadily forward toward your specific goals. Coaches provide insights that help clients find solutions more quickly and effectively than they could on their own. If you have a coach, you'll have someone to complain to or celebrate out loud with, and when you hit a roadblock, your coach will support you and guide you back into action.

Lecturer. Sometimes a consultant is brought in to be "messenger" of good or bad news, but the real purpose of having a so-called lecturer-consultant is to convey or explain information, news, concepts, and practices. In the best cases, lecturers provide highly concentrated and actionable information; in the worst cases, they deliver a dry, boring message or bad news that clients don't want to deliver themselves.

Trainer. Consultants can also be brought in to teach. In fact, the best consultants teach all the time, whether they're officially doing "training" or not. Training can take many forms, from frontline supervisory training to sales training, customer service training, leadership skills, negotiating, communication, executive education programs, technology training, regulatory training, product knowledge training, or motivational training.

Advisor. An advisor can act as a little bit of everything. For example, an advisor might act as part coach, part trainer, and part technical expert. An advisor's greatest asset is his/her experience; he or she provides a sounding board and seasoned advice when it comes to complex issues or difficult decisions.

Facilitator. Consultant-facilitators create arenas for managers, teams, and organizations to solve their own problems using a structured facilitation process. The skilled facilitator's main task is to help the group increase its effectiveness by improving processes and communication. Facilitators act in a neutral manner and make sure that everyone is heard; they resolve conflicts, they systematically work through issues, and they make sure that good decisions get made on the basis of complete information and inclusive opinion-sharing.

Subject Matter Expert (SME). Subject matter experts are humorously referred to as "brains for hire." That description is fairly accurate: These consultants have deep expertise in their subject matter. An SME might be a former professional in the same industry as their clients, or work in a totally unrelated field. Attorneys, medical doctors, labor negotiators, authors, university faculty, and Internet criminals—turned—security consultants are all in this category.

When to Bring in a Consultant (and When Not To)
If you are thinking about hiring a consultant, be sure you really need an external resource. Here are the two basic questions that need to be answered if you are considering external consultants for any project:
1. Are there staff members with the required background, knowledge, and skills available within the organization to undertake the project?
2. Do you need to hire outside help in order to show the importance of the work, satisfy stakeholders, maintain objectivity (or the appearance of such), or for some other reason?

These are the questions you should ask yourself if you are still not sure you should hire an external consultant:
1. Are there sufficient funds designated for an external consulting project?
2. Has similar work been undertaken in-house? (e.g., previous iterations of similar programs)
3. Is there sufficient time and commitment to conduct the work?
4. Is the information or expertise available from other sources?
5. Are there existing measures or indicators of performance?
6. Will existing methods of information collection be useful for the purposes of this project?
7. Is there sufficient objectivity to conduct the work internally?
8. Is there anyone on staff who has training and experience in these specific project-related tasks?

Reasons to Use a Consultant
According to an Entrepreneur magazine survey, here are the top ten reasons organizations hire consultants:
1. Because of his or her expertise
2. To identify problems
3. To supplement staff expertise
4. To act as a catalyst to "get the ball rolling"
5. To provide much-needed objectivity
6. To teach
7. To do the "dirty work"
8. To bring new life to an organization
9. To create a new business
10. To influence other people

For more Information:
Management Consulting Resources
Business Consulting, Management Consulting, IT Consulting, The Consultant’s Toolkit, Consulting Best Practices



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