Being a consultant is fantastic and frustrating. You get to work with loads of organisations and different teams who are all trying to make the world a better place, and making the world a better place is more important now than ever! But it is also frustrating because you often don’t get to see how your advice or recommendations affect an organisation in the long run.
I have some wonderful opportunities to go back and see how clients have used my work to improve the way they deliver results for their beneficiaries, and that is what actually matters: improved organisations delivering better results for beneficiaries who value that work. But is that always what happens when consultants come and go?
Consultants have enormous privilege and influence because of their status as ‘outsiders’ and can heavily influence the shape, vision and direction that organisations or their interventions follow. So how do you ensure that working with consultants will always be a positive experience and that what comes out of that experience will be of benefit to your organisation?
Yes, obviously you have terms of reference for the work that you do with them that will cover the kind of outputs that you want to see. You can be specific about these deliverables: an action plan, a strategy, a report, an evaluation, a set of tools, training, etc and the qualifications or experience you want your consultant to have. But more than that you cannot specify in the terms of reference.
You should instead think about the following 5 points to ensure that consultancy delivers a lasting positive impact on your organisation:
- What is the work culture ‘fit’ between your organisation and the consultant? Do they work in a way that is sufficiently similar to your organisational culture, but can also challenge you to make improvements where needed?
- How flexible can the consultant be, how flexible can your organisation be? Stuff happens, and we all need to be able to bend towards new solutions, new situations. Be open to new ideas and new evidence of what works and what doesn’t work – that’s where innovation and the best results come from!
- Can you keep the consultant out of the organsiation’s internal politics? Are they able to rise above it (after all it isn’t their place to get involved)? Can you manage the internal politics such that the consultant’s presence at least doesn’t make things worse, even if it cannot make things better? Unless of course, the internal politics is integral to why you hired them in the first place, in which case make sure that the consultant and the CEO are on the same page, always.
- Can you and your consultant commit to honest constructive feedback between you? Things won’t always go smoothly and we all often juggle multiple balls, not just our work priorities. So when you or your consultant are having a bad day (consultants are human too) or are a bit snappy for reasons unrelated to work, can you really have that conversation that says: you need to take a moment, collect yourself and come back with your ‘A-game’?
- Can you commit to implementing your consultant’s action plan or recommendations? This might seem obvious, but many times consultancy outputs are left on the shelf because there is no political will to implement what might be difficult changes (or even to consider these change in the first place). Yes, sometimes the quality or relevance of the outputs can be lacking, but in those instances be confident enough to have that conversation and either get the consultant to redo the work, make changes together or terminate the consultancy early.
Above all, never forget that all of this is about making better interventions with better results for your beneficiaries. Improved positive impact will always be the ultimate yard stick against which we are all measured.
Do you recognise your experiences of consultancy and consultants in these 5 points? How can you improve your own work practices to achieve better results?