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When hiring a management consultant, maximize the relationship

Private companies, nonprofits, governmental agencies and educational institutions face issues and questions they are unable to resolve. A management consultant with effective communications skills and industry expertise can help.

Aside from the typical reason — cost effectiveness — a consultant can provide an objective and expert point of view without a vested interest in preserving the status quo. He or she can recommend effective strategies, which may have been previously overlooked. Consultants provide services in business, management, marketing, social media, information technology, communications and many more disciplines — providing expertise on everything from professional writing to image development.

Methodologies include client and team meetings, interviewing, gathering and analyzing data, and strategic exercises to address organizational dynamics. Whether the purpose is reviewing human capital and employee performance, clarifying future direction, reducing costs, improving efficiency, business process re-engineering, refining competitive strategy, or increasing revenue, working in tandem with a management consultant or firm is a committed exercise in producing insights and recommendations of tremendous benefit to your operations. The ultimate goal is not simply arriving at solutions within this consultancy mission, but cementing a high-performing and self-sufficient environment with the renewed ability to think and resolve independently.

Making the decision to retain a consultant can be an intimidating prospect, and understanding the value of outcomes beyond preconceived notions will go a long way toward framing a partnership as a trusted advisor to your business — the gold standard for consultants who also invest with their clients. Sometimes your problem will not be fixed with the perfect solution, but a good and workable decision will nonetheless emerge. And though the numbers can contextualize the issue, at the basic core of all operations are the qualitative human factor and a heuristic application.

In choosing a consultant to assist in the realization of your company’s vision, consider the following to maximize on the relationship:

  • Recognize the consultant is there to provide advisory feedback. Be realistic about the timeline in business turnaround, and wary of promises of overnight success. A consultant should be resourceful and knowledgeable within your industry (or the topic) toward a realistic and feasible solution.
  • Articulate your goals with as much specificity as possible. Expressing generic displeasure with sales doesn’t paint a clear picture. Discuss explicit intentions so the consultant can address what needs to be accomplished.
  • How willing are you to provide records, staffing assistance or office resources to facilitate the consultant’s analysis? Does your environment accommodate a process where employees can speak openly and confidentially to the consultant without interference or punitive measures? Are you the moose in the room and able to heed that message? Assess the level of your commitment to this process.
  • Negotiate fees and the manner in which they are determined or billed before proceeding. Some methods involve hourly, flat or project-oriented rates.
  • Don’t be afraid to interview a potential consultant. Open a dialogue about his or her experience, case studies or success stories. Explore confidentiality or conflict of interest issues regarding your competitors, or the consultant’s other clients. Never underestimate the importance of good rapport or a personal comfort level.
  • Follow up by requesting at least three references. Contact them for feedback just as you would for a permanent employee. Credentials are important, but ensure your consultant has the intelligence to solve complex problems and work well with others.
  • Formalize the relationship with an agreement, which spells out all terms regarding work to be performed and fees. Identify the product: Are you contracting for analysis, its implementation, or both? Have an attorney review it for legal and business prudence.
  • Knowing when to hire a consultant is a decision that requires savvy and insight. Approach it intelligently and realistically for the ultimate win-win solution.


Doña Keating is President and CEO of Professional Options, a prominent innovator in the policy and management consulting industry which provides solutions for businesses, organisations and governmental agencies. She is also a principal in K2 Strategic Solutions, a partnership between Professional Options and Keating Consulting Service which has a combined 50 year history of providing information technology, policy, and management consulting. Keating’s latest book, “How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Nonprofit Hell,” offers pithy observations and solutions borne of decades of service on nonprofit boards and committees, advising them, or facilitating executive and board retreats.

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