3 Things You Should Look For When Hiring A Consultant
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So you’ve decided to hire a consultant?
Good for you. You’ve come to realize that your business isn’t working exactly as you’d like it to. Whether it’s a lack of growth, challenges in employee turnover, or profits coming in less than you’d like; putting your finger on what you’re unhappy with is the very first step.
But let me be honest. You’re about to embark on something that’s going to either transform your business or cause a lot of frustration. Consultants are polarizing- not that different than attorneys. Ask three peers about their experiences with consultants and you’re more likely to get report cards with failing grades than passing ones. Understanding what makes for a successful partnership with a consultant is crucial to bringing about real change.
So how exactly do you pick the right one?
As a former executive who’s hired consultants and as an insider to the industry let me share with you 3 things you should look for when hiring a consultant:
1. Look For A Consultant Who Has Delivered The Outcomes You Are Seeking
Let’s recall Stephen Covey’s famous saying “ Begin with the end in mind.”
What Outcome is it that you want?
Is it business growth? A Higher Exit Price or Sales Price for your Business? Getting Sales out of a slump? Whatever the results are that you are seeking, hire a consultant who specializes in delivering those. It sounds simple! But many leaders get this wrong in 2 ways:
First, they focus on hiring tactical players. A common example of this is the boom of Linkedin Prospecting gurus. You know… the guys who promise to fill up your calendar with qualified prospect appointments? I love Linkedin and I use it myself in business -but what’s really going in with your sales team’s challenges? It’s far more likely that your messaging is dull, your audience is undefined, and your service offering needs adjusting. If you hire the tactical Linkedin guru they won’t help you with that and it will cause you to fail in generating new appointments. However, if you were to hire a consultant who was a former CRO or VP of Marketing and Sales you’d likely get the strategic advice that some of your foundational building blocks need upgrades. If you address them you’ll book far more appointments than hiring a LinkedIn Guru ever could.
The Second mistake commonly made by leaders is hiring the “we can do that” consultant who takes on any work possible rather than working with a defined type of business to deliver a specific type of outcome. Examples of this are Sales Consultants who try to fix HR Issues. Or Marketing Consultants who try to re-engineer sales. Although it’s attractive to work with people you know, it better to work with a consultant who specializes in the outcome you need.
2. Look For A Consultant with Relevant Credentials
In our media-driven world, we tend to fawn over people with impressive credentials. Many executives who’ve worked at large household names leave the corporate world and hang up a consulting shingle and I’m sure you’ve come across some. It’s alluring to work with a former Global Head of Supply Chain for Michelin, or a Head of US Distribution for Apple. Heck who wouldn’t want to hear stories of their interactions with Steve Jobs and be impressed.
But here’s the real question: “Is that person’s experience and expertise relevant to delivering the outcome you want for your business?” We all want to work with people we like, but at the end of the day why are you hiring a consultant anyways? Shouldn’t they have credentials and experience relevant to accomplishing the outcome you’re seeking? Over the course of my 20-year career I’ve observed that a person who is relevant in a large corporate context is often ineffective in consulting with small businesses. Executives accustomed to managing growth at a company with dominant market share and 8% YOY growth are not the right fit for a small company seeking to scale growth at 50-100% YOY! There’s nothing wrong with their experience! It’s just a poor fit for helping you and your business achieve the outcomes you want.
There are different skill sets that people developed based on the size and constraints of the companies they’ve worked for and with. Ideally you want to hire a consultant who has past experience of success in:
Your Size Company: Small Business, Mid-Market, Enterprise
Your Lifecycle of Company: Startup, Growth, Maturity, Decline
Your Business Model: Services vs Product
The Client Type You Serve: B2B vs B2C
The Outcome you are seeking: Top Line Revenue Growth vs Expanding into New Geographic Markets
A Consultant who used to be the head of e-commerce at amazon in 2018 and works with enterprise companies on their online distribution channel strategy might an alluring choice to help you with a growth phase. However, If your business is a 3 Million in Revenue B2B Software Services Company going through a growth phase and looking to niche into specific markets he’s probably a poor choice.
The Consultant who has successfully worked with other businesses with similar characteristics to yours is likely your better choice since they have relevant credentials rather than impressive ones.
3.Look For A Consultant Who Understands The Methodology Of Change
Ultimately what you really want is a different outcome (more revenue, profits, or a greater exit price) and different outcomes require changes in beliefs, actions, and behaviors.
We’ve all heard the quote attributed to Albert Einstein on the definition of insanity: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
If you want to bring about change different behavior is needed. But how do you change the behavior of your employees and how does the classic consulting model fail to achieve this?
I believe that organization-wide change (changing our actions and beliefs) requires support at the top of the house with the CEO which is why my consultancy focuses on working with CEOs and leadership teams to create a Growth Roadmap that brings about real change.
First, I help you see the beliefs and actions that are causing turmoil and missed goals in your business through a Growth Analysis, the first of two parts in a Growth Roadmap. I do a comprehensive review of 6 key areas of the business including things like Employee Engagement, Sales Effectiveness, and Financial performance relative to peers-these can yield rapid insights into what needs your primary attention. All of our actions are linked to beliefs that we have and focusing on seeing our actions as well as the underlying beliefs are both critically important if we want to change ourselves and those that we work with. A Growth Analysis focuses on on both what you are doing and seeks to help you understand why you are doing it.
Second, I work with the CEO and leadership team to implement a growth operating system. This is the second of two parts in a Growth Roadmap. I teach teams a comprehensive yet simple way of running their business. This is a way of thinking and doing business that helps you to focus on the important components and brings about rapid movement through clarity, accountability, and alignment in the organization. At the end of the day you and your leadership team need to own the change you want to see in your business. You’ll be around long after your consultant ends their engagement and you need to use a methodology of how to bring about change on your own.
Baked into the above steps is a focus on helping leaders empathize with and engage the hearts and minds of their people which is how real change takes place. Change initiatives that don’t involve your people and “roll things out” to them without their involvement and participation are destined to fail. Your leadership team is uniquely positioned to do this change work since you know your people better than an outside consultant. You just need a gameplan of how to do this and someone to coach you along the way.
Classically, Consultants don’t take the strategic and comprehensive approach that I’ve laid out above. This is why a year after they’ve come and gone the company is looking for a new approach to fixing the same issue that they hired the last consultant to do.
Your experience of hiring a consultant doesn’t have to be a failure. You can and will experience exponential success as you follow the 3 steps I’ve laid out here.
Micah Brandenburg Consulting specializes in delivering Refreshingly Accurate Clarity That Enables Rapid Growth for B2B Services Companies in Just 90 Days.