Six Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Consultant (Part 1)

This is another in our series of articles relating to good practice in terms of procurement of consulting and related services, published in conjunction with Bloom, who deliver the NEPO Specialist Professional Services neutral vendor solution. Today, we look at what the client organisation can and should do to help their consultant deliver the best possible work.

For many organisations, management consultancy and other related professional services spend is now one of the very biggest category areas. Yet perhaps because this is still a relatively recent phenomenon, the understanding and knowledge of how organisations can get the best return from this spend is still limited. It is still the case that consulting assignments too often fail to deliver what is needed and wanted, or end up costing more and taking longer than was anticipated.

Now entire books have been written around this topic, but here are some of the most important tips in terms of how clients should behave during the assignment in order to get the most out of their consultant. Of course consultants must perform well, but client behaviour plays an important part in the overall success or failure of the assignment too.

  1. Provide a clear definition of outputs or outcomes required from the assignment

Whilst this really needs to be done before the assignment starts, it is so important that we have included it here. This clarity is essential for choosing the right firm in the first place and provides a strong basis to start working together; indeed, it underpins the whole assignment. Without this, much time can be wasted once the assignment has started as client and consultant wrangle over what is actually to be done.  Or worse still, the consultant proceeds, having made their own assumptions, only to deliver work that is not what is really wanted.

  1. Define, understand and agree the client role

There is no single rule in terms of how much involvement the client should have. In some cases, once the consultant is briefed, they may not need to see or speak to the client until the final results are presented. In other cases, it may be the consultant and client working as a team and maybe sitting at adjacent desks for 8 hours every day!  But the key point is to have a shared understanding of that role.

Consultants hate being over-managed, with a client breathing down their neck without adding any real value. But equally, there is nothing as frustrating for a consultant as a client who is not around to provide vital information, or make a key introduction. So make sure from the beginning that everyone understands how you will work together.  Bloom’s executive chairman, Adam Jacobs, who has helped many organisations manage their professional services procurement, says: “any good consultant hopes for access to the client and support when they need it, and it is very much in the client’s own interest to provide that”.   

  1. Treat the consultant(s) with respect – but remember you are the client

We’ve seen consultants used as expensive “bag-carriers”, secretaries or admin assistants by certain executives (in the public and private sector), where that approach seemed to be part of an ego-trip for that client. There are other forms of disrespect that are subtler but can be equally corrosive to the consultant / client relationship. So treat consultants with respect, as you would an internal colleague. Yet this is also a supplier /buyer relationship at the end of the day, and a client should never be afraid to check and comment on the quality of work, or to apply proper discipline to billing, including expenses or other “add-ons”. We’ve also seen examples where the consultant showed disrespect in terms of some of those areas.

For major projects, where administrative areas such as billing might be a significant amount of work, it can often be useful to split that from the day to day client role, particularly if that involves the client working very closely with the consultant (see the previous point). It can be difficult for one individual to work collaboratively all month with the consulting firm, then be challenging over what has been invoiced.

(Part 2 tomorrow - Further information is available in “Buying Professional Services:  How to get value for money from consultants and other professional services providers” (Czerniawska and Smith, 2010) available here; and more about Bloom is available at their website here.

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