Things to do when hiring a management consulting firm

21 November 2019 Consultancy.uk

Finding the right management consulting firm is no easy task. There are hundreds of consulting firms in the market, each with a different positioning, service portfolio, track record and team of consultants.

Whether you want to hire a consulting firm to generate fresh ideas for your business, get access to the consultants’ expertise and experience, or augment your business, these three essential steps will make sure that hire the right firm and make the collaboration as effective as possible.

Before you hire a consulting firm

Research the market
Consulting doesn’t have a Yellow Pages. There are however several sources such as Consultancy.org (a global platform that works with leading consultancies), the Management Consultancies Association or FECAO (which act as a trade body in the UK and Europe) or independent analyst reports that recognise quality and track record.

Referrals are often a good source of qualified recommendations. Due diligence is critical, as it is your career and your objectives that rely on a successful outcome.

Be clear on what you want
Consultants are good at interpreting loose briefs, but often through necessity rather than nature. If you are clear on the outcomes you want (for example, define the top three questions you want answered, decisions you want to take, option you want assessed) this will more likely achieve success. A tight brief limits scope creep.

Check credentials
Case studies and examples of previous work are helpful, and can identify likely suitable candidates. How many of the consulting team that you are hiring have the appropriate skills and experience for this project? Will what worked elsewhere also work for you? There is a sensible balance between having a proven approach and a tailored solution.

Meet the delivery team
Partners and senior members of consulting teams should be able to understand your challenge, provide an outline for a solution and check that they’ve understood the outcome you’re looking for. They won’t however generally be on the ground day-to-day delivering it. Key is to meet the team that will actually deliver the work.

Have the consultants meet your team
Chemistry and cultural fit are key. Will the consultants seamlessly integrate with your team and ‘power up’ your solution? How much management effort will it be on your side to manage the consultants, or to manage the disharmony created amongst your own team? The answer should be minimal. Consultants should be largely self-sufficient and take problems off your list more than they add new ones to it.

Formulate a clear brief

Confirm the scope
What is not in scope is as important as what is. Projects often become de-railed as the ‘non-essential’ items are wrongly prioritised, or ‘added value’ items are delivered at the expense of the critical outcomes. Contracting around the scope and priorities is essential, and should be formally documented. And yes, that means formulating clearly defined briefs and workstreams.

Confirm the expected outcomes
Outputs / deliverables / successes are all fine and good, but no-one changed the world with them. Outcomes are different in that a customer or an internal user can actually see and experience the change. Outcomes answer the question ‘What was different as a result of the project we delivered, and who noticed?’

Set the project up for success
Agree the commercial terms (terms & conditions, invoicing, PO number, finance contact, expense policy etc). Agree regular reporting and touchpoints, insist on communication protocols like being sighted on material being shared outside of the project team. Include the consultants in team meetings, training, briefings, etc. where appropriate (and be clear on where and why if it is not appropriate).

Define the outcome

Re-contract in week 2
Any project starts with assumptions that are quickly disproven. Being up-front about this at an early stage ensures an aligned vision and removes uncertainty. It may mean revisiting scope, timing or pricing. You’d do this with a builder, a wedding planner or someone repairing a watch. Consulting engagements are no different in that what you know once on the inside is different to what you had thought when on the outside.

Maintain a regular dialogue 
Keeping an open channel of communication is essential. Too often clients have no time after the initial kick-off meeting, or consulting teams bury themselves in project ‘war rooms’ and never engage with the business they are there to help. Daily stand-ups are useful as they minimise the impact on business as usual activities, weekly touchpoints as a minimum are needed to ensure the project stays on course (or pivots as required if the client’s needs change).

Keep an open mind on your decision
Unless you’ve worked with a particular consulting team before, you’ll only truly know whether you are heading or success once the project is underway. Allow some latitude for early deliverables, but if your confidence dips you should reconsider and have a back-up plan. Failing fast and learning early is a better route to success than slavishly staying the course with a team destined for failure. The ‘narrow second place’ consulting team may be primed and hungry to replace your misplaced trust in the current team.

Be clear on what good looks like for you
Setting clear expectations on what you like to see, how you like to see it, whether you want to see emerging drafts or reviewed final output will help you to get the best out of your consulting team. If they cannot deliver against this, then you’ve been clear in your brief and they’ve not delivered their part of the deal.

Regularly review progress against plan
Work through both what has been delivered and how it has been delivered. Has your team benefited from insights, learning and knowledge tools being transferred? Is the organisation likely to be left better off as a result of the engagement with the consulting team? Are you getting the ‘added value’ or ‘accelerators’ promised in the proposal?

Give feedback and monitor results
Consulting projects tend to be intense, absorbing and exhausting. Positive feedback on achieving outcomes (even minor ones) goes a long way to fuelling the motivation to keep turning in the long days and the time away from home. Equally, constructive corrective feedback is useful to avoid losing more time on activities that are not delivering the required results. Consultants are thick-skinned types so they won’t take it personally, and they would prefer to know in order to have the chance to act accordingly.

Close down the project effectively
Most consultants will be onto the next project almost immediately after they finish with you. Ensuring that all the deliverables are handed over, equipment is returned, passes and log-ins deactivated, invoices and expenses settled is critical. Equally important is signing off on completion and ensuring that someone in your team has retained the knowledge and documentation created.

Conclusion

In a crowded market, finding the right management consulting firm to hire is a challenge. You will need a firm that understands your business and has the right expertise, and can act upon that knowledge to deliver the results you need. Do not settle for outdated approaches and retired mindsets, and don’t accept a consulting firm that only offers “landing and expanding” – not actually solving the problems at hand.

By following the steps above you’re making your experience of finding the right consultant easier and reducing the risk of working with one that wastes your time and money.


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