If you’re looking for a business consultant, you may need to look beyond the big corporate names.
Because more often than not you’re hiring an individual to work with rather than a group of people. And that individual has to deliver results working together with your team.
It makes sense therefore to understand who will be doing the work with you. Bear in mind, that it may be someone different from the people pitching for the assignment.
Obviously, you’ll want to assess that person’s relevant experience and expertise. Less obviously perhaps, you’ll need to evaluate the fit with your organisation and your ways of working.
In many respects, hiring a business consultant is similar to recruiting a senior employee.
You want to make sure that the person you’re bringing in has the personal attributes needed to succeed within your environment.
Along with seeing the world through your eyes but applying his/her unique insights to constructively challenge your thinking and help you make better decisions.
What makes a good business consultant?
We could trot out the same answer that you will see splurged across all consultants’ websites – including our own.
That is to say, deep expertise and relevant experience in a sector coupled with core consulting skills, such as how to gather and analyse data, how to run projects, or how to engage with clients.
Of course, these are important factors to consider. They indicate whether a consultant is qualified to work with you. However, they tell you nothing about how good a job he/she is likely to do for you.
For this, you do need to uncover whether you are bringing in the kind of person who’s willing to go the extra mile to deliver a successful outcome.
This means not only completing the project as initially scoped, but also highlighting and fixing neglected or overlooked side issues as they become apparent.
It also entails coaching and supporting your own employees where necessary. As well as communicating positively and professionally at all levels.
Which means of course, that you’re looking for soft skills as well as hard expertise.
Essential soft skills for a successful business consultant
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of soft skills that a top performing consultant brings to his or her client’s business. He/she:
Acts with integrity
Honours commitments, maintains confidentiality, manages expectations and does everything possible to overcome difficulties or delays.
Focuses on you, the client
Works with you to fully understand your unique environment, your specific challenges and to deliver tailor-made solutions that work for you
Actively listens and learns
Is genuinely interested in suggestions, comments and concerns raised by you and your team. Co-creates workable solutions based on these learnings.
Facilitates and collaborates
Brings groups together with disparate views and backgrounds. Encourages positive contributions and active engagement.
Deals with difficult situations and individuals with tact and respect.
Initiates and influences
Encourages people to take action and move forward. Gently removes roadblocks without putting backs up and praises progress as it happens.
Adapts verbal and non-verbal communication styles to people at differing levels of your organisation.
Helps others problem-solve
Helps groups solve their own problems by asking the right questions to uncover hidden answers to previously unresolved issues.
Keeps it simple
Provides a clear and concise summary of findings and easy to follow action plans.
Is likable and easy to work with. Admits to mistakes, takes responsibility, and helps others to shine.
How will you know whether your business consultant has what it takes?
You can of course do some due diligence before hiring a consultant. For example, you can check out testimonials, secure references, and ask probing questions at the pre-engagement stage.
Meeting in person, if possible, also makes a lot of sense. You’ll immediately get a feel for whether your prospective consultant will inspire confidence and trust. Whether what he/she says is credible and realistic.
But can he/she actually “walk the talk”?
One way to establish this is to agree a short project with a narrow scope and a clearly defined deliverable. Then, get started.
It’s akin to bringing in a new employee on a probationary period or fixed-term contract. In effect, you get to try before you buy.
If all goes well, you can then extend the scope of the project to cover more ground or open up additional areas where external support would be extremely valuable to your organisation.
In summary, not all business consultants are equal
Not all consultants are equal. The best consultants are those individuals who go above and beyond to help you to succeed on your terms.
To an outsider, it might be hard to tell them apart from your own in-house colleagues.
That’s because they’re genuinely interested in your business challenges, committed to the success of your mission, and have a real appetite for solving seemingly intractable issues.
So, when it comes to looking for a business consultant, it pays to dig a bit deeper. To look beyond technical abilities and educational achievements to uncover the individual who might be able to make a real difference to your business.
And when you find him or her, you’re likely to work with them as a trusted advisor over an extended period and achieve great things as a result.