In the last of three blogs, Jake discusses getting the best out of a consultant.

Jake Fox joined Whitecap Consulting six weeks ago, straight from finishing his undergraduate degree in Entrepreneurship and Management at Lancaster University. He has looked to gain strategy consulting experience before moving on to a Masters degree in Finance and Economics for Development, in September.

F2ullSizeRenderIn a short amount of time, Jake has been through quite the learning curve, gaining insight into the consulting process.

This three part series has been written by Jake, based on his views about the consultant-client relationship,examining the role of the consultant, and the effective running of the consultant recruitment and management processes.

Part 3 – How do you get the best out of consultant?

Hiring a consultant requires a commitment to investing in a particular set of skills. Once you’ve been through the process of choosing a consultant, focus turns to managing the client-consultant relationship to make sure you get the best return from your investment.

Here is some advice on getting the best out of your chosen consultant:

Give a clear brief

 The work a consultant delivers for you can only be as good as the brief they are given. In order to get the most value, you should clearly define the required task and prepare the terms of reference (scoping document) before you start.

The scoping document should cover the purpose of the assignment, the tasks to be carried out and the expected outcomes or objectives.

Clearly define the assignment scope, the role the consultant will play in this and the deliverables. For example, do you need research and a strategic plan detailing options, or do you need an actionable business plan on how to implement them?

Set out your budget range and schedule, along with details on change management should new information later come to light that may affect how much the project costs or how long it takes.

Negotiating a price

(We discussed price in an earlier post). When negotiating a price with a consultant, don’t get fixated on costs – instead think about the outcomes and long term ROI.

While any supplier will expect you to push for the best price, it is important to ensure it is also a fair price for the consultant’s time.

Be careful when negotiating time and cost, will the consultant still be worth bringing in if the project is heavily constrained from the start. By cutting down the budget or project length – are you getting discounted time or less time? Are you still confident you will get the quality of output you need?

Develop mutual trust and honesty

For a client-consultant relationship to work, you need to know that the consultant will always be honest with you, even if the truth is not what you want to hear. You need to know that a consultant has your long-term interests at heart.

In our Brand Trust Series that we published examining trust within the financial services industry, we discussed the importance of establishing trust through clear communication, connection and empathy.

In establishing a good relationship, mutual trust is developed through openness and honesty. Be upfront about challenges and past mistakes.

To get value out of your engagement with a consultant, it is best not to withhold information.  Only by fully understanding the business will your consultant be able to offer you the best advice.

Clearly communicate with your consultant

Establish and maintain regular lines of communication. Set out at the start how and when you plan to communicate, and what types of communications will be required.

Will you, for example, be running an agile project with regular informal catch up meetings as the project develops, or will a written report and a formal presentation to the board be required? Set out key dates and milestones as part of this process.

Treat a consultant as a member of the team

You should treat consultants as members of the team and confidants. By integrating them with the team, consultants will gain a more comprehensive overview of opportunities and challenges.

They will understand how your business works day-to-day and how results can be practically achieved. It will also build trust between them and your other employees. Ultimately, you will get better advice that is easier to implement.

Don’t be afraid to challenge and be challenged

Make sure as a client you’re open-minded to suggestions, even if they don’t align with your current views. But similarly don’t be afraid to challenge a consultant and ask them to explain why they think a particular approach is better.

A good consultant will relish this challenge and be only too happy to share their insights on this.

Make use of all of a consultant’s expertise

As well as knowledge and experience, consultants often also have access to data, systems and contacts that could broaden your options and horizons.

Ask them about related experience they have that could help you in different ways. For example, at Whitecap we are often asked to write briefs for agencies that our clients work with on related projects.

Use a consultant’s time effectively

Carefully consider how their time can be best spent to utilise their knowledge, experience and skills efficiently and effectively.

What areas of work that you are currently doing yourself or in-house that they could provide unique insight on? What would be the best use of their time? Use consultant time effectively so you can focus on the things that you do best.

Have clear guidelines for managing projects

Set out a clear plan and agree all deliverables from the outset. It can be difficult to accurately predict what will be involved from the outset. We recommend breaking the project down into phases that show clear deliverables for each task/day, and for what cost. This also enables projects to be revaluated at key checkpoints.

When research is required, be careful to set out a clear scope so the research is focused on clear objectives.

Put simply, to get the best out of a consultant you need to develop a clear process and have some best practice guidelines for managing consultant relationships in your organization.

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I’m hoping this series of blogs have proved to be useful in understanding why a consultant can help your business and what you need to consider. It would also be great to hear your thoughts on what you look for in a consultant and how you bring the best out of them on your projects and campaigns?

If you’re seeking more commercial clarity take a look at some of the other resources on our website:

To discuss your project, call us on 0113 834 3133 or contact us today.