Hiring Consultants; There's Some Fear on Both Sides
November, 2004This is a reprise of an article written for Parking Today in the last Millennium by Barbara Chance, PhD, President of Chance Management Advisors.
ot a problem? Know that one of your operating divisions is not performing as well as projected? Worried that you don't really know how to reorganize your program, even though your bosses expect you to do it? Need some new ideas about how to better provide the services you manage? Need to spend less and do more?
It may be time to hire a consultant to help you. Then again you may be leery of hiring a consultant.
Howard Shenson, in his book, How to Select and Manage Consultants, describes the top five fears clients have about hiring con-sultants, as revealed by his research:
* Consultant incompetence-fear that the consulting experience will yield nothing useful (and that you might be blamed for the results of the project);
* Continuing dependency-worry that the organization will continu-ally have to acquire assistance rather than its own staff learning how to do things better;
* Lack of managerial control-con-cern that the project will take on a life of its own, different from what was anticipated;
* Excessive fees-wondering whether the consultant has the same ideas about the level of quality and extent of services desired and what they should cost; and
* Time availability-ability of the con-sultant's schedule to mesh with the organization's schedule.
So if clients have all these fears, why do they continue to hire consultants?
They don't have the time or the resources to address the issues from within their own organizations. Staff members are already over-worked and don't have time to do research or analysis. They want an outside, objective analysis of conditions. This outside look may be required by someone higher in the organization as well.
They need expertise or experience beyond what is already available in the organization.
They need outside support for project or ideas.
There is also another reason, wryly put by Nigel Viney in Bluffing Your Way in Consultancy: "The essence of consultancy is simply stated, and you (the consultant) should never fail to bear it in mind. "You are there to do the dirty work."
Leave it to a Brit to point out the obvious. He writes this analysis in his humorous little book, but "dirty work" is quite often the essence of consulting projects. Consultants are rarely hired when things are going well and when everything is anticipated to run smoothly in the future. Therefore, clients may have mixed feelings about starting a consulting project. Even if the folks on top of an organization are excited about having outsiders look at everything, those farther down may not be so thrilled.
Elements that help develop a successful project include a reasonable scope and a budget that matches it, open and honest communication between the client and the consultant, an identified liaison in the client organization, objectives for the project and milestones to be observed by all, on time progress reports from the consultant and quick feedback from the client, adherence to the initial schedule or mutual agreements about changes in the schedule, and flexibility on both sides. Rarely does a project unfold as it was initially imagined by either the client or consultant. Recognizing that fact and adjusting gracefully is to be desired by both parties.
If you overcome your fears about retaining a consultant, what do you anticipate getting out of a consultant's assistance? How about these:
* An objective analysis by someone whose purpose is to help you accomplish the goals and objectives associated with the project;
* A different point of view about what Is going on at present and what will improve conditions or better position your organizations for the future;
* The benefit of experience in other places and on other projects;
* Someone to reveal the unpleasant truth and help you deal with it;
* Someone who can confirm validity of our strategy and what you intend to do; and
* Someone who can make you (and your organizations) money or save you money.
If you want these positive results, take the time to find out who really provides the kind of assistance you need. Do more than look in directories and revise an old bid list -- call some of your colleagues and get their opinions about consultants they have used for similar problems. Then devote the time and thought necessary to develop a good description of what you want done. If you and your staff can't agree on a description, it is unlikely that perspective consultants will do better with it! Run a reasonable selection process . Finally, find a way to hire who you want to do the project, under whatever procurement rules you must use.
See, you're feel less fearful already. Go get the help you need.
Dr. Chance can be reached at