How to work with a consultant
At GLTAAC we help our client manufacturing companies by covering 50% of the cost for third-party experts (i.e., consultants) on crucial projects to improve their competitiveness. Many clients identify this outside expertise themselves. For others, we help them identify, select, and secure the best outside expertise (typically a professional consultant, but not always) for each improvement project.
We’ve helped hundreds of client companies successfully work with hundreds of consultants over the years on all kinds of projects (market planning, website development, sales training, lean manufacturing help, quality certifications, employee skills training, succession planning, to name just a very few).
We have learned that the way a company approaches working with a consultant can be a big determinant of how successful the engagement ultimately turns out. So, let’s take a look at how to do that.
For this blog, I’ll assume that you have already found a consultant. If you need ideas to help with that, see GLTAAC Project Manager, Parker Finn’s previous blog “The Right Way to Find a Consultant – 6 Basic Steps”.
OK, so you’ve found a consultant and you’ve signed an agreement with them that has a defined scope of work with deliverables and a timeline with milestones. Before signing, you went over the agreement and clarified any details so there is no confusion and so invoicing will be clear. Good – now the work begins.
If this is your first engagement with the consultant, they’ll need to spend some time to understand your business and your company. Do your part to give them a quick, thorough understanding of the relevant parts of your business – it will help them be productive more quickly and set the stage for a good relationship.
Have an appropriate kick-off meeting so your staff is aware of the expectations and schedule for the project. This will help insure you have the needed support in your company. Share the details of the agreement with your staff – they will help you manage the effort.
For the duration of the project the consultant will be your partner, applying their expertise to help you accomplish your business goal – whether that goal is in marketing, sales, manufacturing, quality or some other area. Take the long view – when the project is successful, you will want to call on them in the future for similar work.
Expect to participate
Be involved in all aspects of the engagement. Expect to spend some time handling logistics, attending status meetings or phone conferences, and handling internal communications with stakeholders. Establish good communications (i.e., exchange email, office phone and cell phone numbers!) and stay in touch with the consultant.
Make sure you and your staff are available as agreed and that you and your staff do your “assignments” (if any) as needed in order to stay on schedule. Whether it is an approval of the consultant’s work product or providing some information to the consultant so they can continue their work, manage your end to be sure it is completed on time. If your company does not do its part, it undermines the consultant’s effort. If you keep the consultant waiting, they will have to switch their efforts to another client while they are waiting. Once momentum is lost, it is hard to re-start the effort and recapture the momentum and enthusiasm.
When a project is late, our experience is that often it’s the client who has delayed the work by not responding to the consultant. The press of daily business can cause staff to be “too busy” to provide the needed information or approval. GLTAAC asks our clients to grade each consultant after every project and we’ve found that the lowest scores tend to be for timeliness and accessibility. When we discuss it with the client, they often admit that delays started with their own delay in providing information to the consultant.
Remember, it’s a business – pay promptly!
Consultants basically have two things to sell: their time and their expertise. They offer them in exchange for fees and, like any other business, they depend on prompt payment of those fees to sustain their business.
Often, the best consultants for our client companies are small firms who have just a few employees. For them, cash flow is critical. The best way you can show appreciation for their services is to pay promptly.
Formula for success
To summarize, the best way to work with a consultant is to have an agreement in place with a clear timeline and clear deliverables.
• Start out right with a kick-off meeting
• Expect to participate – be involved and stay in communication
• Manage the engagement to keep the momentum and enthusiasm
• Pay the consultant timely
Consultants genuinely want to help their clients succeed. As with all good relationships, successful consulting projects require mutual respect, ethical behavior, and a willingness to work together toward specific goals.
Contact GLTAAC for more information about the TAAF program and the kinds of projects we co-fund for our clients.