Why has engaging the help of a consulting agency become such a widespread practice? The answer to this question becomes obvious when you consider how fast-paced business has become as technologies have advanced and the business environment has changed. And the pace isn’t slowing. To expect business leaders and their teams to have the expanse and depth of expertise required to stay competitive is unrealistic and has made engaging the help of consultants who can fill in the gaps a necessity.

Once you’ve recognized a need for consulting expertise, you’ll likely have some questions and concerns about choosing a consulting partner that’s right for your business and specific project. Here, I will define consulting and the role of a consulting partner, provide a breakdown of the main components of an engagement, and share the benefits of working with a consulting firm as well as give some guidelines on when not to hire a consultant.

What Is Consulting?

Consulting is the practice of lending leadership and expertise to an existing situation or new opportunity. Business consulting aims to support businesses in making informed decisions, optimizing their resources, and ultimately achieving greater success in their respective industries.

There are many types of consulting firms. Some focus on one specific area of expertise like strategy, technology, or staff augmentation. Others offer a combination of expertise, such as providing technology and data services, for example. A few consulting firms are more comprehensive and can step in at strategic intervals during a project, or run entire projects from start to finish, depending on the client’s needs.

What is the Role of a Consultant?

The role of a consultant is to share knowledge and experience that can help you address key needs within your business. Consultants can help with everything from providing interim leadership or staff augmentation to assisting with or running complex initiatives.

An example of a short-term consulting engagement might be a company that has lost its CIO bringing in a consultant to provide interim leadership at the CIO level, affording them time to find a suitable replacement. For an example, visit this case study detailing how InfoWorks helped a retail organization with an interim leadership placement.

A longer-term more complex consulting engagement might encompass hiring a team experienced in multiple disciplines. For example, working on an engagement that utilizes team members with project management, application development, data warehousing and architecture, and change management expertise, to help a client eliminate problems they are experiencing with a disparate technology stack.

Whether you are working with an individual consultant or a team, they should be a partner who provides expertise, support, and guidance. You should expect them to bring a “fresh set of eyes” and perspective to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities you’ve identified but lack the time, capacity, or skillset within your organization to adequately address.

Major Components of a Consulting Engagement

Each consulting engagement is different, even if the project is essentially the same. That’s because each business has a unique way of operating and vision for growth making it necessary to customize each project for that particular client. Still, there is a consulting process that should be followed to increase the chances of success.

Four Key Steps of the Consulting Process

1.  Listen

A good consulting partner listens first. You know your business and its intricacies better than anyone on the outside looking in possibly can. After actively listening, they should be able to ask insightful questions that draw out your view of key needs, pain points, what works well, and what needs an overhaul.

2.  Clearly Define the Client’s Need

The next step is to define the need or opportunity clearly. It can be difficult to readily identify the most principal issues to address and resolve. All organizations are complicated, with multiple issues, concerns, customers, and stakeholders coming into play throughout an initiative. Pulling on a single thread can impact, if not unravel, many or most parts of the total organization. Gathering all the input and then concisely articulating the essence of the key needs and opportunities is critical.

A consulting engagement should be able to focus on discrete changes or building blocks that bring measurable results in specific areas, with a clear, big-picture view of the impact on the full organization.

3.  Recommend a Solution

There can be many potential solutions to problems and opportunities. Consultants rely on their broader set of knowledge, experience, and skills to define what the possibilities are and present them to you for consideration. They may include a path you have already considered, but with added insights and solid ideas to give it greater clarity. The possibilities they present should have the capacity to drive step-change improvement in your business if not transform it through the new initiatives. A recommended path forward should include a cost/benefit analysis, at least at a high level, to help guide decisions.

4.  Implement the Plan

A recommendation without a plan to implement is just another dream. So, even if you work with a firm that specializes strictly in strategy, you will want them to leave you with an actionable plan. What I mean by actionable is a well-defined set of steps that drive the change and manage the organizational impact so that the end result is lasting, positive change.

Benefits of Hiring a Consulting Firm

In today’s business climate, most businesses need to run lean. Managing the myriad operational tasks required on a daily basis can easily consume even the most talented managers and their staff. However, critical business issues, strategies, or process improvements that are not being addressed can consume a significant amount of your, and your organization’s, time.

Engaging an outside consulting team can allow you to:

  • Better define and address areas of improvement or potential and produce a more flexible and scalable product.
  • Stay focused on all the other important items on your to-do list.
  • Utilize your team’s strengths and supplement areas where you need more depth of expertise.
  • Reveal additional insights and opportunities through an outside perspective.
  • Reduce cost and time to completion.
  • Increase potential for successful completion and user adoption.

Areas to Consider When Hiring a Consulting Firm

Time Constraints

A consulting engagement brings in extra resources to address needs that you do not currently have the time or capacity for within your own organization. However, a consulting engagement does require time, input, and energy from your team to maximize success. Before hiring a consultant, ensure that your team is informed about the purpose of the partnership and their responsibilities throughout the engagement. If your team doesn’t have the bandwidth to collaborate with the consulting team, you might want to wait until provisions can be made.

Resistance from Internal Team

Sometimes, team members are resistant to working with consultants because they feel threatened or intruded upon. The best way to avoid this situation is to make sure your team is informed about why you are bringing in consultants, how they will be directly affected, and what is expected of them. Keeping them engaged throughout the process will ensure they feel valued. This is a great time to incorporate change management practices to facilitate a smooth integration between internal and external teams.

Cost

The cost of consulting is probably the top concern for business leaders and can seem prohibitive. When calculating return on investment, realistically consider whether the expertise of the consultants will add enough value to offset the time, internal resources, and the overall value of the initiative required to tackle the project in-house.

Selecting the Right Consulting Firm

There are many factors to consider when bringing in outside consultants. Important attributes to look for when selecting your consulting firm is that they plan ahead to make optimal use of your team’s time with well-planned meetings, focused agendas, clear timelines, and a measure of flexibility. Additionally, choosing a firm that sees themselves as a partner and is dedicated to understanding your business, your goals, and your situation are critical factors driving successful engagements and creating value.

About Don Frank

Mr. Frank has a strong background in business and project management, leading complex initiatives to create value-additive customer solutions. He has broad experience across multiple industries, market segments, and business functions, with a 30+ year career for a Fortune 50 company and 10 years in the consulting industry. His skills and experience provide the foundation to quickly understand customer issues, build teams, and drive business results.

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