A few years ago, an organizational leader mentioned to me that one of their biggest pet peeves about consultants was that “they come into your company with their clipboard to make notes on how your organization is doing. Then, they give you a large to do list and expect you to get it all done.” This person did not take kindly to consultants based on their previous experience, clearly.
As a consultant myself, instead of taking this comment as an insult, I instead vowed that I, and our team, would never be ‘clipboard consultants’.
I think we’ve all encountered clipboard consultants. (Note: if you’re a consultant, continue reading and take this as an opportunity to think about how you can improve what you do to provide expertise and support to your clients.) Picture this; a consultant comes into your organization, does a few interviews, pokes around a bit and conducts an audit of your communications, operations, processes, etc… and then gives you a checklist of where you can improve. Off they ride into the sunset, clipboard in hand, on to the next project.
I think there are many good reasons to hire a consultant. 1) A fresh set of eyes. 3) A neutral or unbiased person for stakeholders to share ideas with. 3) A professional in their field to help amplify what your organization is doing well, and where you may improve. Without the right approach though, consultants can sometimes pile on the workload and increased expectations for an organization that already may be struggling, and that’s where it doesn’t work well.
I have three tips for how to hire a great consultant who will truly help your business:
1. First, consider how open you are to change: as an organizational leader, you’ve likely identified that you can fine tune your business practices, which is why you may consider hiring a consultant in the first place. You will need the right mindset to adopt changes and recommendations, so make sure you’re committed to the process or please, save your time and money.
2. Ask for references from other business leaders: if you’re looking for a great lawyer or accountant, it’s common practice to ask other leaders who they work with. The same should be true for consultants. Ask them for who they’ve done work with and if you can reach out. You’ll quickly learn the consultant’s style, their expertise, and how they helped add value to the organization that originally hired them. Do your homework.
3. Ask the consultant how they will make things easier for you: you’ve got the right mindset, references are in order, now how will a consultant, through their work, make life easier for you? There will be work for you when the recommendations come forward no question, but there are ways consultants can provide guidance to help you implement change or provide timelines to consider ensuring change can realistically be made.
I also have three thoughts or tips for how to not be a clipboard consultant:
1. First, make sure the work is in your area of specialty: too many times, consultants are offered projects that aren’t in their sweet spot of what they specialize in. Do yourself a favour; refer, refer, refer if it’s not what you love and do exceedingly well. There have been times where I’ve taken on work I should have referred, and I ended up subcontracting out part of the work because there were areas I would not have made smart recommendations on. Know your strengths.
2. Make it easy, or at least easier: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in a meeting with a prospective client and promised them we would do everything we could to make it easy or easier for them. Their shoulders drop, they smile, and are physically more relaxed. This is part of our role as consultants to help people – please make it easier for them!
3. Be realistic: consider making recommendations in phases and keep these phases high level. Most often, we as humans are much more open to a list of things we need to do when there are a few items (perhaps three to five) instead of a laundry list of all the things we need to change. I like to make recommendations to my clients, when possible, in steps or stages. When they implement step one, they move to the next step. Realistic recommendations have a higher chance of getting accomplished than a list that goes on, and on, and on…
The biggest tip though for both consultants and organizational leaders is to form a relationship, not just a business transaction. Build that relationship on mutual trust, honesty, added value, and a collaborative willingness to put in the work together, and that’s where the real change will start to occur.