Organizations of all sizes, both for-profit and non-profit, often use consultants for short or long-term assignments. These outside experts may be brought in because an organization’s own staff, vendors and sub-contractors lack the specialized expertise needed for a particular project, company expansion or even a crisis. Consultants also may be used to handle work overload situations or when a company seeks an outside, objective perspective on its operations.
Regardless of the specific reasons for contracting with a consultant, a clearly defined and efficient work process is essential in order to get the best value from outside specialists. These guidelines will help create a smooth, productive working relationship:
Set Clear Expectations and Provide Necessary Resources
• Establish clear assignments, deadlines and if appropriate, budgets.
• Provide the information and other resources the consultant needs to do the job in a timely way.
• Explain how the consultant’s work will be evaluated and used within the organization.
Communication Is Key
• It’s important to establish regular, mutually convenient channels and times for project updates and questions. Unless the consultant has an office on your premises, you are not going to see this person by chance in the hall or cafeteria so regular conference calls or meeting times will be needed.
• Establish the type and frequency of project reporting that is necessary for your organization. If there is specialized in-house software for project work flow and schedule tracking, this should be made available to the consultant.
• Be responsive. If the consultant requests additional information via email, text or phone, respond within a day, even if it is only to indicate that the message was received and an answer will be forthcoming. Keep in mind that the consultant won’t necessarily know if staff contacts are out sick, at a company-wide meeting or if the corporate email system isn’t working.
• Respect the consultant’s time.
• Be open to information and opinions expressed by the consultant. You’re paying for specialized knowledge and experience so it makes sense to at least consider another point of view.
Explain Relevant Organizational Dynamics
• Explain the internal review process and timeline for the consultant’s work.
• Introduce the consultant to employees who will be providing information or otherwise involved in the project. Even if they will interact mainly by phone or email, an initial introduction will facilitate a good working relationship.
• Provide timely, constructive feedback for work that is submitted, preferably consolidated from all internal reviewers. Be specific regarding areas that don’t meet expectations.
• If invoices need to be submitted in a certain format or on certain dates, provide that information in advance, not after a bill has been submitted, stalled in Accounts Payable and possibly rejected.
Using an outside consultant or consulting firm can help an organization solve problems, expand its markets or services, or cope with a crisis, but it is a relationship that needs to be managed well to be productive. Investing time to establish effective communications and work methods will pay off in the timeliness and quality of services provided.