Believe it or not…

I have spent nearly 15 years of my life as a full-time consultant.  Over that time I have run the gamut from being self-employed to working for one of the largest firms in the country. I have provided consulting services to mom-and-pop businesses, Fortune 100 businesses and everything in between. When I wasn’t working as a consultant, I was responsible for hiring consultants for projects, both big and small.  All this to say – I know of what I speak.

Below are three of the most often suspected, rarely spoken-of truths about consultants.  My guess is that I will be drummed out of the super-secret-society of consultants, but I am willing to take the risk. Because, if you are going to hire a consultant, knowing these will help in making the best decision possible.

Truth #1: Consultants do NOT know more about your organization than you do!

Only in very rare circumstances does anyone know more about your organization than you. But that is not really why you should be hiring a consultant. What consultants bring to the table is observations and information from LOTS of resources, many of which you probably do not have access to. What you should be hiring a consultant for is to leverage their knowledge, combined with your own, to develop unique one-of-a-kind solutions and opportunities. And an excellent consultant will help you do that.

Excellent consultants are able to quickly gain understanding of key processes, identify strategic opportunities, and apply their experiences to help you develop a plan of action.  In consultant speak, that plan of action is often called a deliverable. It can take a variety of forms, but ultimately this is where the value is (or at least should be). So make sure it is clearly defined from the beginning.

Truth #2: All critical knowledge you gain from your consultant, your members already knew.

And this can be very frustrating to the members of your organization. What many members don’t understand – or are unable to do – is to combine their knowledge and information with that of the other members to create a broader understanding of the issue(s). As a board member or top level leader you might be able to see a bigger picture, but usually the day-to-day requirements of your position prevent you from being completely effective in this effort.

Hiring a consultant is about gaining a fresh and all-encompassing view without restrictions. Good consultants will gain many (if not all) of their insights from the observations of the members of your group or organization. But outstanding consultants will be able to take those observations, find common themes, and uncover the systemic issues as opposed to localized problems.

Truth #3: Hiring a consultant will not solve your organization’s problems.

All any consultant can do is identify areas for improvement, provide plans or solutions to fix problem areas and occasionally implement specific tasks. But to solve a problem, the organization has to be willing to make the fundamental changes.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard (or experienced) stories of organizations that have “wasted money” on consultants. But in every case, when you find out all the details, it was the organization’s inability or unwillingness to make the necessary changes outlined by the consultant, not the consultant’s information. So don’t hire a consultant expecting a miracle cure. The only way real improvements will be made is if the members of the organization are willing to make the sacrifices and do the hard work of actually changing.

Have you worked with a consultant in the past? What truths did you uncover?

If you’d like to learn more about hiring a consultant for YOUR organization, I’d be happy to help! Click here to learn about the services I offer to volunteer boards, and sign up below to be the first to know when there are openings in my schedule.

Image via Flicker by Alex Schweigert