Speak to any organization about their latest engagement with a consultant, and they will offer a remorseful sigh. They will proceed to tell you a strangely familiar tale of poor communication, unintended disruption, arrogance, and unmet expectations. It’s no secret that engaging with consultants is considered as a necessary evil, landing somewhere between negotiating with a used-car salesperson and getting a root canal.
The perspective and reputation of consultants are unfortunate but, at times, certainly deserved. Too often, the priority of closing the deal exceeds the understanding of the client’s needs. The attempt to impress the client with certifications, exposure to the latest technology, and artfully used acronyms fall flat when the client needs assistance through a tight spot. Upon the consultant’s departure, the organization is left with a solution that is undocumented, unstable, and untenable.
It doesn’t have to be this way
In the journey of business operation and growth, you will encounter challenges that exceed the skill sets of your staff; or the priority of the day-to-day exceeds the effort demanded by a particular problem that begs for attention. These are the moments when a consultant can either illuminate the path forward or take up the reigns of the problem and transform it into an opportunity for your business.
Some may elect a stronger word than “nonsense” to represent the experience of engaging with a consultant who feigns interest in the organization’s situation and needs. Heavy use of jargon buys no credit toward establishing trust with the client, which is the primary objective in the early stages of the engagement. Trust is built by expressing genuine concern regarding the client’s situation and listening to the information provided. In the discovery phase of the meeting, far more questions should be asked than solutions offered. When the time comes to extend a solution, it should always blend well with the client’s environment and culture.
A consultant is indeed brought into a situation because they offer something unique to the organization. The unique aspect could be a deep understanding of guiding principles, specialized technical knowledge, extensive experience with overcoming a problem, or merely having the availability to address the task at hand. The consultant’s collaboration with the client’s managers and staff should be a complimentary one, and there is always more opportunity for the consultant to learn than there is to impart their pearls of wisdom.
When a consultant is engaged, the client has opened their company’s most sensitive aspects to a third-party. By nature, this position creates a level of anxiety, especially when a trust-based relationship is in its infancy. Poor communication by the consultant exacerbates this anxiety; therefore, the consultant must offer frequent dialogue and feedback. An effective communication practice includes the inclusion of thoughtful documentation of any solution implemented so that the client can have confidence in the continuity of its operation after the consultant departs.
On the surface, these three aspects of a consultant’s engagement may seem elementary. After all, I don’t know of any consultancy which intentionally violates these aspects. Regardless, these three aspects are commonly part of consultant engagement horror stories. At Sagevane, these aspects are so important to us that they are incorporated into our core values and operational methods. We strive with intentionality to be exceptional in these matters so that your consultant engagement story can be a saga of success and true collaboration.