You’ve likely heard the old joke—a consultant is someone who borrows your watch and tells you what time it is. Ouch! Consultants are often right up there with lawyers when it comes to getting an undeserved bad rap. Or maybe you’ve experienced the opposite…your board or chief executive actually “needs” a consultant to come in and say the same thing you’ve been saying for months before they will seriously consider your new idea.  

But here’s the good news: you can build a productive and successful relationship with your consultant if you hire smart and follow a few easy tips. 

#1. Know what you need.  Do you need someone to develop high-level strategy or someone to roll up their sleeves and get a specific job done? Or maybe you need both. The key here is to develop a scope of work (SOW) that articulates exactly what you are looking for. Once you start talking with consultants, you may learn more about what’s possible, get new ideas, and perhaps even re-think your objectives. Enjoy this part of the process and keep an open mind.  

#2. Check references.  I know, I know. This seems like a no-brainer. Yet, sometimes in our rush to the finish line, we skip this important step. Ask references open-ended questions like, “Can you tell me about how communication flowed between you and the consultant?” and “Can you give me an example of something that went wrong and how the consultant handled it?” Keep in mind, you are not necessarily looking for someone who never makes mistakes, but you are looking for someone who can quickly regroup and turn straw into gold.  

#3. Be transparent. Once you have entered into a relationship with a consultant you feel good about, don’t be afraid to tell it like it is. Any consultant worth their salt will hold your conversations in confidence. Having all the details (the good, the bad, and the ugly!) will give your consultant the information needed to avoid pitfalls and help you achieve your highest priorities.  

#4. Be accessible. A strong consultant will be as efficient as possible with your consulting budget—and you have to help! Respond to emails/telephone calls in a timely fashion, honor agreed upon dates for deliverables, and provide plenty of constructive feedback on the work product your consultant creates for you. This saves valuable time and garners high quality results.  

#5. Hire someone compatible. Once all of the “skills and relevant experience” boxes are ticked, why not hire someone you actually like? Now, I’m not saying your consultant has to be your best friend, but you’ll forge a stronger connection, learn more, and communicate more effectively if you hire someone whose values and interpersonal style is compatible with yours and, just as importantly, is a fit within your organization’s culture.  

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