How to tell good consultants from bad ones

how to identify the best consultantsOne of the biggest barriers to using consultants is a fear of the consulting project going awry, and making the manager who engaged the consultant “look bad”. The risk of a poor consulting experience can be minimised by doing some legwork upfront to separate out the good consultants from the bad. Here are our tips!

The chemistry must be right

When it comes to people, what’s perceived as ‘good’ for one may be perceived as ‘bad’ for another.  Consulting is all about people - people coming into your enterprise from outside, people who need to work with your people, people who are bringing expertise that does not exist, or is at an insufficient level, within your enterprise. So interpersonal chemistry is important.  Some buyers of consulting services feel that this interpersonal analysis is very similar to the first stages of the dating game - and they are probably right!

So, if after a phone conversation or a meeting or two, you do not find yourself hitting it off with the consultant (and their firm), then move on.  If you cannot see the consultant getting on with your people (and your enterprise), move on.  And if there’s a mismatch of corporate values or personal values, move on too.

It’s not an easy decision to move on when the consultant has been recommended or introduced, but it’s advisable to candidly brief the person who brought them to your attention.

Make sure the consultant ticks all the boxes

It’s helpful to have a checklist of items which you can quite objectively tick off to determine whether the consultant has what you’re looking for.  Here are some examples of questions you could consider as part of your evaluation of a referred consultant:

  • Does the consultant demonstrate that they really understand your needs
  • If you have a problem to fix, do you have a shared view on the definition of that problem? Do you agree that it can even be solved?  Alternatively, if the consulting is about an opportunity to realise, do you both see the opportunity in the same way? Is there a shared view on what the positive outcome/s for your enterprise will be?  
  • Can the consultant prove that they have the required specialisation, whether via references, testimonials, case studies or publicly available content? Bad consultants cannot provide demonstrable proof that they have the skills, knowledge and experience needed to deliver their specialisation.
  • Does the consultant have creative and innovative talents, which come through clearly in pre-proposal discussions?  The best illustration is where the consultant takes an existing and relatively standard approach to fixing a problem and significantly tailors it for your instance, your variation of that common problem.  In fact you could set this as a challenge, a test, during your consultant selection process to see what the consultant comes up with.
  • If you are engaging a consulting firm, check their website and LinkedIn page: does their online presence inspire you with confidence, that these consultants are thought leaders or industry experts?
  • Does the consultant have good verbal and written communication skills? If their report is going to be circulated up to management, it’s important that their written work is professional and not ridden with spelling and grammar mistakes!
  • Does the consultant offer value for money? The bad consultant will fail to convince you that their fees represent value for money.  

In conclusion, this good versus bad analysis is best carried out when you have a project to do, because this gives the perfect reference point, a stake in the ground for the comparison which you must make.

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