Get the most out of your consultants

From an icy glass tower in London’s Canary Wharf to the sweltering office of an NGO based in Metro Manila, I have had the good fortune of working with many different types of clients and projects. Common for all is my role as a consultant, to gather, develop or activate the genius that lies within organisations.

But how do I best do that? What are the things that help me, help you? In other words; How do you get the most out of your consultant?

Share your budget at the outset 

This one requires a huge leap of faith, I know. I see the worry in your eyes that I will run amok and SPEND IT ALL, for the sake of it. Clients who know me, know that I refuse to do work that I do not believe in. For those who don’t, imagine going to a restaurant and asking the waiter to recommend a set menu, without an idea of your price range and only a burgeoning understanding of your preferences.

If I have visibility of your budget at the outset, I can recommend a solution that matches your needs and provides the best “bang for your buck”. Often further budget is released later in the project. This can be the equivalent of being offered dessert when you’ve just had a full meal – you wish you had known, when choosing your menu.

Design from outcomes

Whether you are executing a strategy summit, developing a leadership programme, or supporting a change roll-out in your organisation, it is bound to be a complex process with competing voices, choices and agendas. Start the process by going beyond outputs and determining outcomes.

You want to launch the new strategy at a top 200. What change do you want to see at the end, how will people be thinking or acting differently? With outcomes as a guiding star, design decisions will be clearer, stakeholders will be easier to align and – most importantly – the impact of your project should be improved.

Dedicate a stellar internal project manager

…and give them the resources needed to adequately drive the project within your organisation. A dedicated project manager on your end will save you time and money. I can do a lot, but I can do more if stakeholders are aligned, organizational knowledge is integrated throughout, we have executive buy-in, content providers are kept to deadlines, internal involvement is ensured, risks are flagged early…you get the idea.

I run projects that range from co-creation style partnerships to projects with minimal touchpoints and efforts on behalf of the client. All are optimized by having an experienced project manager on the customer side.

Provide early access to key stakeholders   

The projects that are the most successful, are the ones where I meet top stakeholders from the outset. This ensures that we are aligned on overall intent and outcome, we can establish a rapport and the seeds of a trust-filled relationship. It is also an important opportunity to manage expectations and be open about what might not be possible.

Setting the course, getting on the same page, and establishing a relationship with key stakeholders means that we can design a project that is more likely to deliver on strategic needs and individual stakeholder concerns. Later in the project it is much easier to consult or inform the stakeholders when knowledge of the project and the credibility of me as an external consultant has already been established.

I have a couple of clients where I have access from the get-go. Not only does it ensure a smoother process, it helps secure a better outcome.

Avoid ‘pass the parcel’ solution design

Did you play ‘pass the parcel’ as a child? The popular party-game lets kids pass a parcel in a circle, guided by an upbeat song. When the music stops, the child who happens to be holding the parcel gets to open the present.

In the corporate world, I often see stakeholders and project managers play pass the parcel with solutions. Round and round we go between different solutions until the music runs out. The solution we land on might not be the best, but time has run out and we are stuck with it.

Involve your stakeholders early, be bold in enforcing your project plan, know when to make a conscious choice between the solutions available to you, and decide before the music stops playing.

These tips are all about collaborating efficienctly through clarity and transparency. Clarity about roles and outcomes, transparency about decision power and your investment.

I hope my observations help you get the most out of your consultant. Feel free to reach out, if you were able to apply some of my recommendations, or if you have any additional insights you would like to share.