We want a sticker too please!
Everyone’s interest is in getting this frankly expensive consultancy business right. Consultancy becomes a high-stakes investment when it comes to technology, so here’s a fairly crash course in how you can take some really simple steps towards gold stars all round.
Aim high. And you won’t be disappointed. Remember that a consultant is not another team recruit, so set your expectations for challenge, debate and intervention. This is expert advice at its best. Throughout the engagement, this means asking questions and trying to be aware if you are slipping into “managerial mode”.
Choose wisely. Expect your service provider to be able to tell you why a particular consultant is right for you – and do ask. CV’s aren’t everything. One person’s “business intelligence expert” or “extensive experience” is not another’s, so ask for a qualitative assessment. For engagements of more than a few days, it is very fair to ask for phone interviews and to understand if substitution is going to be possible if you don’t hit it off. [If you’re not quite sure of the right question, then try “Why have you chosen this consultant for me?” or “Why are you right?”]
Be pragmatic. The reality of life is such that diaries, availability and the best person don’t always coincide nicely. I’d encourage you to make clear which factor is up for compromise in the consultancy planning. Is it the deadline that’s key? If so, please don’t sacrifice quality, but you might choose to compromise on skill-set to get there – and there is a difference. When it comes to cost, do take advice about whether a less conventional form of consultancy delivery could offer the right answers within budget.
Scoping matters. Setting expectations for specification, delivery and outcomes helps us find the right person and allows your consultant to work in alignment with your long-term goals. Read my brief blog about this but, if you’ve not time for that, then please just don’t skip the scoping. Expect to be guided to get there, but expect it to happen.
Ask don’t tell! As the client, it is of course your prerogative to define expectations as to the end-game. Within your scoping conversation, you’ll be explaining what it is you want to achieve and you’ll be setting your preferred tolerances for that scope. But expect more from your consultant than a “you said, I did”. For many of us managing teams, we can get used to a style of directive which doesn’t get the best out of a consultancy relationship. Look to ask as many questions as possible. You’re out for expert advice. Note that if you can see challenge heading your way, you might consider making sure there is an appropriately private forum set up for you to receive this! Remember that in the asking, there is no obligation to accept but here a truism applies “don’t ask, don’t get”!
The magic word is “because”. You’ll need to explain what you want to happen. You’ll need to make choices based on advice offered. Try to convey reasoning and results described as impact. Note the exceptional value of the added word “because” for your consultant. [“I want you to build a workflow”. “I want you to build a workflow, because…..”] “Because” allows us to use our experience and judgement to deliver the outcome in the optimum way, whether the way is the way anticipated or not. Many clients comment to me that they feel they may not know about all options and it’s our job to fill in the blanks. Saying what is unlikely to be important, saying how is our job and saying why is the bit to concentrate on.
Be there. And if you can’t, then assign a team member to spend time with your consultant. I’ll write again about why I recommend taking a physical driving seat when it comes to technology as an HR lead, but please don’t overlook the value of investing your day. Firstly there is the learning experience – why save “training” for later? Secondly ownership of outcomes and delivery, keeping things on track until that happy point where you can be sure your consultant is going to do well operating self-sufficiently for you. Thirdly there is organisation memory. This could be pretty important later on and a consultancy experience is a moment in time and rarely a hard-coding. If you’re delegating, why not ask your team for a mini-report on achievements of goals, own learning and next steps?
Document. It’s dull, but you really will forget. It’s helpful to advise in advance as to the style of notes, documentation or report you’d like to receive back, so that we can factor this into our time and get it right. I find it hard ever to recommend short-changing yourself on this point. So often work is lost due to a lack of continuity of personnel within organisations, simply because nothing is written down. And for the same reason:
Build a relationship. Ask for a lead consultant to look after your project. Continuity and consistency of advice is vital in the HR technology world and I’ve written before (in the iTrent Serenity Prayer) about the very real issue of expert opinion. Don’t find yourself trying to referee between two consultants’ preferred solutions – and if you do, demand from your service delivery lead a route out of that nasty one. Consider whether local, and a lower expenses bill, matters.
And finally, for those consultant readers who may think I’m driving them hard here, please remember we are people too. Consultants may be good, bad or even ugly – but only the truly ugliest are “in it for the money”. We want to solve problems and we want to go home with a gold star and a sticker for our chart, so help us to deliver. Please remember we drink tea and coffee too, and it is just fabulous if you can help us find a good sandwich at lunchtime. A parking spot and some directions. A recommended hotel. A goodbye at the end of the day. It’s simple stuff but it’s not all about the tech.

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