Consultant Selection – Mission Critical Decisions for Large Organizations

November 07 22:51 2019
Large companies in the US increasingly rely on the expertise of outside consultants, and the predictions are that this trend is going to continue.

New York, NY – Nov 7, 2019 – When a company decides to engage a consultant, hiring decisions are critical. Outside expertise is often called in due to the high-stakes nature of IT and intellectual property management, marketing and communications directives, and other important elements of running large organizations.

Experience Is Everything

Chief Executive Magazine ran a feature article to address this issue, with advice to CEOs on best practices. This quote sums it up:

“When it’s time to bring in a consulting company, do your due diligence. Approach it like filling a top position on your team. Check around your industry and get references that prove the firm has done good work in the area where you need help.”

In another revealing comment on the management consulting industry, they further advise to “Focus on identifying the actual consultant known for this work, rather than the firm.”

According to a study by Hinge (How Buyers Buy Management Consulting Services), only 7% of buyers of consulting services feel that they already know all the alternatives that they need to consider. This points to a definite need for education in this area.

Too Much Choice

The industry is highly fragmented, with a wide variety of firms. IbisWorld reports there are over 700,000 consulting firms in the U.S. These range from the “big three” global-strategy consulting firms, to a large number of individual/independent consultants – and this broad spectrum exacerbates the hiring dilemma.

Cynthia Kay is president of CK & Company, a communications consultancy and video production firm based in the Midwest. Her clients include Global Fortune 100 companies as well as SMEs across the country.

Kay says that experience and specialized knowledge should be important criteria in hiring a consultant.

“Knowing what’s working elsewhere, even in an unrelated industry, can make a big difference. For instance, it’s important to understand the cost of sending someone to do in-person training in 8 or 10 different cities, as opposed to a one-time expenditure to capture and package the training. Then you can make the trainer available for interactive sessions via a webinar.”

“On the flip side, when you hire trainers you must know in advance if you have permission to capture their presentation or if they provide video as part of their engagement. I’ve seen shoots cancelled because a client assumed they could capture a presentation but they didn’t have permission.”

Chief Executive Magazine highlights a pitfall to avoid when awarding a contract. “When you do hire a consulting firm, avoid the ‘bait and switch’ – make sure the contract spells out who will do the work and how much of the partner’s time will be devoted to your project.”

Cynthia Kay suggests that the depth of the team being hired is important to consider along with the amount of time a firm’s principals will devote to the engagement.

“In order to take advantage of unplanned opportunities you need to work with a company with professionals on staff who can handle the different parts of a project in house,” says Kay.

“In communications, that means someone with the ability and experience to help craft the communications, to help choose the best channels as well as train spokespeople, if necessary.”

People and Fees

Fee structure is another primary consideration. As is getting buy-in from leaders and team members across the organization, according to Chief Executive Magazine.

“How do they approach their work, how will they work with your team … these are important considerations before hiring a consultant. You need to know how much homework they’re prepared to do to learn your business, and if you will be charged for that preparation time,” suggests Kay, acknowledging the issue of hidden fees that can derail engagements.

“Our work, corporate communications, is very collaborative. These aren’t the kind of projects that clients just hand off to someone. So, it’s important that your consultant is prepared to invest in learning all they need to know,” she continued.

“Ultimately, if your consultant isn’t someone you’d actually hire onto your team, they’re probably not going to be a good choice.”

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