Archive for April, 2008

So you want to hire a consultant?

April 2, 2008

We hate to see good businesses taken in by bad consultants. I recently wrote this piece on how to avoid predatory consultants for a Binghamton, NY, business publication:

Hiring Consultants: The Good, the Bad and the Really Ugly

We’ve seen ’em all.

The explosion of self-styled consultants in the business world has led to a serious side effect: Consultant fatigue.

No doubt you’ve seen it or experienced it yourself. Consultants come in with guns ablaze, dispensing big insights and making big promises. Six months later, either nothing has changed or things are actually worse.

You move on to the next big idea, the next consultant with a new spin on lean management or six sigma or the latest buzz biz model.

It’s enough to make business leaders wary of all consultants and their promises, which is unfortunate because there are talented and insightful consultants whose fees could be the best investment you’ll ever make.

We have worked with many consultants over the years because of our large client list and the type of work we do. Some of the consultants have been a pleasure to work for, grow with and learn from. Others have been mediocre, but they have served a purpose. And then there is the type of consultant who seems to have a stranglehold on an organization and actually does more harm than good.

You can find the good ones and avoid the ugly ones by following a few guidelines when hiring a consultant:

The Big Talker
It should go without saying. Before placing your trust and your company’s future in the hands of a consultant, ask for references and check them. Has the consultant worked for an organization like yours? What were the goals and outcomes? Who is a reference? A good consultant will be more than happy to share success stories, and will have plenty of references to back them up.

Track Record
How successful are the consultant’s own business practices? Are you going to trust the wheel of your million-dollar company to a consultant whose own business model seems to be lacking?

The Never-Ending Consultant
This is the worst of situations. Some consultants see businesses as endless supplies of revenue. They are adept at finding ways to extend projects far beyond their natural life or creating projects that spawn a litter of new projects. It’s important to examine how successful  Phase 1 was. If the project was wildly successful, then maybe Phase 2 is a good idea. If you’re lining the consultant’s coffers at the expense of your company’s, it might be time to move on.

The No-Duh Consultant
It is very easy for any competent businessperson to look at an organization from a third party perspective and see the strongpoints/flaws, Sometimes a lot easier then the person inside the business – this is the core of a consultants silver lining– The true effective consultant will have the ability to administer effective change through their observations. Many consultants seem like visionaries for basically pointing out the obvious – it’s important to take a step back and not be too impressed with observations – again look at the track records.

The No-Goals, No-Problem Consultant
If your consultant is quick to promise actions but slow to outline the goals and measurable results, take it as a big red flag. A good consultant listens to your goals and delivers a service designed specifically to move those goals forward.  A great consultant will outline very clearly from the beginning how you will be able to measure the value of that service after it has been delivered.

As in any industry, there are good and bad apples in the consulting field. We’ve worked with great consultants who are innovative, insightful and incredibly proficient. And if decision makers could more quickly differentiate between the good and the bad, things would never get ugly.

Christopher Quereau is founder and creative director for GrafiQa Creative Services, a marketing and brand development firm with offices in Binghamton and Oneonta. He can be reached at chris@grafiqa.com or 607.433.8837.

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