A consultant is a person who gives expert or professional advice. Consultants can provide:
- Fresh thinking for problem solving
- Unique skills when specialized experience or knowledge is not available within your organization
- One-time help with unique projects or work overloads
Know your organization
When you hire a consultant, think about your own organization. Explore the problem: What do you need to solve? Why is it important?
Determine the relationship
When you have a clear understanding of the situation that requires a consultant, decide the type of working relationship you want to have.
The consultant might act as the expert—someone with technical expertise your organization lacks. The control will rest with the consultant, who will analyze the situation and recommend approaches or solutions. The manager's role is to evaluate and implement the consultant's product.
The consultant might offer a pair of hands—playing the role of someone who does what the manager has decided needs to be done. The manager makes the decisions and selects the methods.
The consultant-client relationship might be collaborative—a joint undertaking in which the consultant is not expected to solve problems, but instead works closely with management to design a project.
Above all, remember that the success of a project may depend on how well you and the consultant work together.
Prepare for the interview
Once you have identified your organization's needs and the consultant's role, plan on interviewing any prospective consultants. Talking with prospective consultants may help you better define your situation and make you aware of options and approaches you might not have considered. Also, a consultant can have an impact throughout your entire organization, so you may want to include other people in the interview process who will be working directly with the consultant.
Conduct the interview
The interview questions should bring out information about the consultant in two areas: subjective and factual. Prepare questions that will give you information about the consultant's experience. During the questioning, be aware of the nature of the responses and the consultant's demeanor.
Key things to note about the consultant:
- Listening: Does the consultant pay attention to what you say, ask appropriate questions, and take time to explore your concerns?
- Objectivity: Will this consultant be able to provide the outside expert objectivity?
- Experience: Is the consultant's experience relevant to your own situation? Does the consultant have the skills and perspective to help you solve your problem?
- Information: Did the consultant do homework prior to the interview? Do they seem to know something about your organization?
- Communication: Does the consultant tell you what will be expected from you?
- Understanding: Does the consultant understand your situation? Are you in agreement on the scope and assumptions of the project?
Selecting the consultant: To make the final decision, carefully evaluate the resume or examples of past work. Look for special skills not on your staff. Weigh your subjective impressions carefully. Remember: Sometimes you learn the most from people the least like you.
Planning the project
Once the consultant has been hired, take the time to make sure you understand each other. You may want to have a one-to-one design conference to lay the groundwork. Then you and the consultant should sit down with your management team or other designated group to develop a plan.
Be honest with the consultant about your situation. All information relevant to the project should be available to the consultant at the beginning. Surprises (especially bad ones) could hinder your project—and are unfair to the consultant.
Consultants can be a cost-effective solution to problems in your organization, but only if they are selected carefully and used well.