Six Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Consultant (Part 2)

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. Here, we continue to look at what the client organisation can and should do to help their consultant deliver the best possible work; the first three tips were published yesterday in Part 1.  

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.

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.

  1. Keep the focus on the deliverables

Regular updates are useful (particularly if it is an assignment where the client is not very involved day-to-day). A good consultant should be happy to do this – as long as the reporting does not get to the point where it is so onerous that it becomes a distraction in itself. Indeed, don’t get distracted generally, or encourage the consultant to go off down blind alleys. It is sometimes tempting to latch onto something the consultant has discovered and say, “could you just do a bit of additional work to look into that further”? Be cautious about that – and see the next point for how to manage it, if it is genuinely necessary.

Equally, additional work or distraction can come from the internal stakeholders, so make sure the consultant knows who the client is and that any additional work for instance can only be agreed by a defined client-side manager. (Watch out for consultants “upselling” too; that’s another whole discussion point in itself.) Of course, where fees are linked to deliverables this focus is even more vital in order to avoid disputes when it comes to payment.  Back to Adam Jacobs, executive chairman of Bloom: “We operate the NEPO specialist professional services neutral vendor solution and from the beginning of that venture, and at the heart of our ethos, we have been driving the supply side to work in terms of clear outputs and outcomes, not hours or days of time. We also link payment to outputs - which have to be signed off by the client - whenever that is feasible”.

  1. Handle “change management” very carefully

As we have already discussed, good consulting assignments have clear outputs, deliverables or outcomes. Now in the case of major and particularly longer-term assignments, it is quite possible that those need to be adjusted as the project progresses. But if it is really necessary for changes to be made, this must be managed carefully and in a structured manner to avoid unexpected costs, overruns in terms of delivery and ultimately, unhappy clients and consultants.

A change management process should ideally be laid out in the initial contract. Any change to deliverables, timescales or costs (whether total cost, changes to rates or other variations) must be formally agreed and signed off by the relevant people on both client and consultant side.

  1. Provide feedback to the consultant

Structured feedback is important to enable the consultant to perform well and to improve. During longer assignments, this should take place at regular intervals, and be based on the deliverables and outputs required. But it can also get into behavioural characteristics: so how is the consultant or consulting group working as part of a team, perhaps? Is the consultant sharing knowledge with client staff in the way that was hoped or expected? Defining such aspects up-front is sensible, so, just as in the case of internal staff appraisals, there should be no surprises for the consultant when the feedback is provided.

At the end of the assignment, feedback enables the consultant to build learning into their future work. While that specific client may not directly benefit from that, it is in everyone’s interest that consultants improve performance over time. And particularly for public sector clients, there is a common good here; over time, better performance by consultants who regularly work in the public sector helps everyone as taxpayers, clients or service users.


These are only some of the points to consider, but they provide a good overview of key areas that can help define success in using your consultants effectively. 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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Voices (2)

  1. seagull:

    Interesting image that you use Peter; is the martyrdom of St Hippolytus an allegory for how organisations should deal with consultants? Should organisations be seeking out the modern equivalent of being dragged to death by wild horses. Might be useful to remember that not all consultants are underhanded or incompetent and that regardless of ability they are all human beings.

    1. Peter Smith:

      There was a bit of irony and attempted humour in the choice of picture rather than any serious criticism of the consulting profession, I can assure you. I’ve been a consultant myself for many years and written a book about how all parties can benefit from effective use of professional services, so I’m not exactly a virulent critic! Hopefully the article stresses what the client should do to get the most out of any assignment – and working in a professional but positive way with the consultant is a key part of that.

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