As a communications consultant, nothing gives me more heartburn than working with a client who knows they need help but aren’t ready for it. You see, there’s a certain mindset that’s needed to work with external consultants successfully. It requires a bit of humility.
Here’s some free advice. Regardless of the kind of consulting you need, there are four mindset shifts that can significantly improve your return on investment.
Loose the Crazy
If your in-house talent or resources were hitting the mark, you wouldn’t be considering an external consultant. Do not hire a consultant only to do what you’ve always done after they’ve advised otherwise. That’s an expensive definition of insanity. Companies or leaders that are resistant to change burn through consultants and cash. There are some I would not work with based on experience or reputation, as I can anticipate the outcome. Good consultants want good results. This benefits them as well as you.
Consultants are advisors. Good consultants listen, ask a lot of questions, analyze, and assess. Then they tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
A strong consultant provides direct & honest feedback, including telling you that your “baby” is ugly, or simply pointing out the flaws in your “emperor’s new clothes” campaign. They will also tell you what’s working well. But unlike employees who are afraid to “rock the boat” or kiss up to management for the next promotion, quality consultants provide unfiltered, honest feedback. If they don’t, then find one that will.
Experienced consultants are battle-hardened. They bring years of first-hand best practices; lessons learned and stay current with trends and technology. Many have worked “on the inside,” and are very aware of office politics, personal agendas, reputation issues, and “that’s the way we’ve always done it” cultural barriers. They will say what others are afraid to say when it is in your best interest to hear it. They will also help you break through to the other side, with measurable justification. That’s what you’re paying them to do.
Change Your Ways
Consultants are catalysts for change. If you’re unable or unwilling to make changes, don’t hire one. Consultants learn what your needs are, assess strengths, weaknesses, gaps, and opportunities. Then they develop a strategic plan, which almost always involves change. Not change just for the sake of change, but a strategic shift in your priorities, communication, processes, indicators, activities, talent, and execution to better support your business goals. You are learning and applying new and better approaches so that you achieve new and better outcomes.
The biggest, most successful, forward-leaning companies and innovative leaders hire consultants. Small business owners hire consultants. Everyone needs objective, outside expertise to learn, expand, and grow. Even consultants pay for continuing education and coaching to constantly improve and update their craft.
External consultants make good business sense when the results are measurable, include sustainable improvements and strengthen internal skill sets. But if objective feedback is needed only because it’s not coming from internal leaders and frontline employees, then it’s time to review your organization’s culture, to include what’s being modeled and rewarded.
If you’re outsourcing for honesty, there’s an immediate need for internal reflection.
A consultant can help with that, too.