So you’ve decided you need a third-party management consultant. Now what? How do select the right one? You know how to interview employees, but how do you interview a consultant? What do you need to check in regards to their background to see if they’re the right fit for you?
1) Experience and expertise
When selecting a consultant, be sure to find one whose strengths align most closely to the issues at hand. Don’t, for example, select an IT consultant specializing in small business needs — one who may have incredible IT expertise — when you are seeking to expand your IT services across the globe. They might know a lot about the issue at hand, but are the capable of the same execution as a larger firm may be?
The only way to tell is by verifying the firm’s experience. Just because a firm specializes in small business matters doesn’t necessarily mean that its consultants haven’t had large business experience, and vice versa. Look over their work history thoroughly during the interview process, and even go so far as to contact some of their former vendors for insights about the way the consultant works.
2) Market knowledge
One of the biggest reasons that third-party consultants exist is that a company cannot always tackle everything in-house. Sometimes it’s a manpower issue. Sometimes it’s an expertise issue. Just because you have qualified, capable employees doesn’t always mean that they have the level of detailed market knowledge that a third-party consultant may possess. A consultant can bring in their outside knowledge and help your business in two different ways. First, a consultant can help you overcome the hurdle for which you hired them. Second, they can share their market knowledge with your team, further your company’s internal ability to handle future problems.
A company can often get so caught up in the nitty-gritty of its processes that it fails to notices the errors and inconsistencies in them. I remember a math professor I had way back in college who told a story of how he spent 2 years trying to write a proof for a problem that had never been solved. He failed. So he quit that one and moved onto another. A year later, someone publishes their proof to the same previously-unsolved problem. When my professor looked back on his notes, he realized that he’d confused one + sign with one – sign. If a person can make such a mistake, imagine the size of one that a group of people can make. An outside consultant brings in the objectivity companies need in order to evaluate not just the problem, but also the ways the company is currently approaching it. During your interviews, ask potential consultants about the ways they’d imagine solving your problem at first glance.
This one is a short answer: You have to pick a firm that is willing and able to work for you. Just because a firm is large doesn’t mean they’ll be available. Just because a firm is small doesn’t mean they aren’t. Basically you need to make sure that your consultant can put in the man hours necessary to solve the problem, and make sure they’ll be well-focused on your company during each of them.
Things change. That’s an inevitability. Pick your consultant accordingly. Ask them how they’ve set out to solve problems in the past and how they adapted when those problems change. You might believe your problem involves marketing, and the consultant may discover it’s really a sales problem. Is the consultant then prepared and able to fix the sales problem, or does that mean you’ll have to shell out for another firm instead?