“Bring in the consultants.” If you heard that at your company, how would it resonate with you? Have you had good experience with consultants, or were they poor experiences? Do you use consultants as workforce augmentation or to help you solve complex problems? There are some pretty smart people out there willing to handle your biggest challenges, and here are some thoughts about when to bring an expert consultant in:
Define or validate the problem statement. To be successful, it’s critical to solve the right problem. In business and in life we have a tendency to solve the wrong problem because when we look at our own problems, our vision can be too narrow or unduly influenced by the past. Someone outside the situation can be leveraged to help frame the problem, validate or challenge assumptions and inferences, and share expertise to ensure the organization is starting at the right point.
A new perspective. Bringing in someone who complements your team’s talents can augment solutions. Building skill diversity allows stronger solutioning. A mix of internal and external talent can help bring out the best in the company and the utilization of outside ideas to minimize a company’s weaknesses.
To bring agreement. Groups within an organization are not always aligned in perspective. Determining a solution or an approach to solve a problem can be challenging. If you find yourself at an impasse or need guidance on the right solution, a consultant can help. Acting as a neutral, unbiased third-party, they can help the organization rise above the prejudices, pet ideas, etc. that weigh down executing a solution.
Bring out the best in your employees. Your employees have great ideas and solutions to solve problems. Sometimes they aren’t comfortable sharing, whether it’s due to the culture, a history of not being listened to, or their personality. A neutral party, skilled in facilitation, can create an environment where your talent can share ideas and solutions. This person knows how to ask the right questions to get great answers, which leads to more effective implementation.
But don’t hire a consultant if…
You are looking for a microwave miracle. Our society demands instantaneous results, but those results are often superficial. Lasting results take time. Agility and time for implementation are important to stay competitive, but they have to be balanced with quality, lasting solutions. While there are consultants who are willing to come in and create “miracles,” if the solution doesn’t last, it will put a bad taste in the employees’ mouths, and they will be less likely to get on board with any future outside solutions.
There won’t be any senior leadership support. Projects and initiatives without leadership support will not have a high success rate. Bringing in a consultant to help build a business case is fine, but bringing a consultant when senior leadership isn’t on board will stagnate progress.
To do something you just don’t want to do. I think of the scene in Office Space before the consultants arrive. The employees are talking about how that means layoffs are imminent. Bringing in consultants to do the dirty work will create distrust among your team. Any time consultants are brought in, employees will be immediately skeptical and think their jobs are on the line.
Consultants can definitely help organizations implement their great ideas. But like any tool, they need to be used appropriately and strategically. In what situations have you seen consultants get the best results for your organization?
Jana Axline is Chief Project Officer at Project Genetics and the author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings, she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Project Genetics.