Follow these rules of the road when hiring a consultant

score Question:
I need some help in filing some holes in my long-term goals and plans. Are consultants worth hiring?

As the selling task becomes more complex and technology drives change, managers and owners are increasingly turning to consultants for help. That experience can be a good or a disastrous mistake.

In today's flatter organizations, outside assistance is used more often -- managers tend to have a feeling that an outsider's perspective will help focus them for the future.

The emergence of technology in the company structure is increasing the demand for consultants because many companies don't know what they're doing when it comes to technology.

This presents a problem: Rushing to get the apparent problem solved by using consultants without seeing the bigger problem. They don't plan enough, don't completely identify the problem, and they end up working on things with the consultant they never intended.

A recent survey by Sales & Marketing Management found that 50 percent of the respondents were somewhat satisfied or not satisfied with the work of the consultants. That's way too high a dissatisfaction number for a service that can cost thousands or hundreds of dollars.

Imagine being unhappy with the work of a barber or a house-cleaner. You'd fire them immediately. Unfortunately, this no-bull idea doesn't often apply to consultants.

Bill Ennisse, vice president and general manager of U.S. customer operations for Xerox Corporation, explains it this way: "You can't just put a company in the hands of a consultant and expect to fix anything. More likely, it will end up killing the company, its employees and its customers."

Here are some rules to follow when hiring and working with consultants to ensure that those relationships pay off:

  • Clearly identify your problems first. Too many companies rush to use consultants without figuring out exactly what they want.
  • Get a reference. Don't be fooled by an incredible presentation and host of promises. Do your homework.
  • Map out a plan. Eliminate the problem of the consultant having a full-time, never-ending job by setting up a definite plan at the beginning of the program and putting it all in writing.
  • Get employee buy-in. Employees are often resentful of the consultant because they are being told what to do by the consultant. speak to your staff about the consultant objective, the plan and how it will help them.
  • Ensure front-end work. Make sure the consultant works with all layers of your company before implementing anything.
  • Create an ROI [return on investment] model. Map out a ROI model that the consultant can be held accountable for and betters the chances of increasing your bottom line.
  • Communicate throughout. For the program to succeed, all layers of the organization need to be involved and stay involved.
  • Follow-up. The consultant needs to follow up to ensure that the new program is being implemented well.
If you do just half of the above, I'm sure your relationship with the consultant will be more rewarding and more profitable.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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