How Do I Avoid Costly Mistakes When Hiring an Interim Executive or Management Consultant?
You would be hard pressed to find a business that hasn’t made at least one bad experience with an executive or management consultant hire. There is obviously no guarantees but there certainly are a number of things you can do to minimize this risk.
I have made costly mistakes when hiring an executive/consultant in the past. How do I make sure I don’t make the same mistake again?
Whether you need an assessment or your company restructured, there are a few key things we recommend to keep in mind when selecting the right executive for your needs. These are beyond the basics of verifying their background, checking references, background checks, etc. These are the areas that most often cause a company to get off track when finding the right management consultant for their need.
The biggest mistake we see is companies hiring a consultant who has had a stellar career, has a great reputation (references proved it) and said all the right things yet, the company was unhappy with the progress and the results. The biggest reason for the disconnect is that the consultant didn’t have the right expertise and background to fit the situation. When hiring an interim executive, companies want an expert who has been in that exact or similar situation a number of times and knows how to quickly assess and solve the problem. Also, one that works well with the existing executive team. One question – describe similar situations you have been in before, how you approached it and the outcomes.
A number of executives who have been consulting for years will have a consultants ‘toolbox’. These are often valuable techniques, trainings, methods, assessments, templates, etc they can use at your company to get more done faster. They have been tested with a number of other companies and situations and act as a great foundation. However, beware when these represent most of what the consultant is proposing and will use during the assignment. They should be a good base but also be customized to your company’s situation. Ask for examples of what has been used in the past and how it was adapted for each company. Look for outcomes and results rather than just a book of documentation and set of instructions.
This is often a tricky one but certainly needs to be addressed. Unless the project is solely an assessment, the deliverables should include more than a report, findings and suggested action plan. What is the expected outcome once they are done and what will you have to show for it? It is often difficult to quantify and predict at the onset which is why you will often see management consulting assignments broken into phases with concrete deliverables identified one phase at a time. This also acts as a good milestone to stop, look at what has been done, reassess the situation as it stands at that point and decide the best options for proceeding.
Probably one of the biggest causes for a bad experience with a management consultant is the gap between expectations and reality. When you bring in an expert, especially at the rates you are paying them, it is too easy to expect the visions you have in your head for the outcome to become reality. That is often possible but it may come with an extended timeline and expanded price tag compared to what you originally thought or were told. A management consultant can end up being the lynch pin you needed to pull everything you already had together and make significant progress towards your vision. Just make sure you and the consultant are taking into account all facts currently known and not substituting dreams for deliverables.
What should I consider, so I don’t make costly mistakes when hiring an interim executive or management consultant?
As you consider engaging a management consultant, here’s a few things to keep in mind that will help you with the initial framework.
Are you clear on what the actual problem or need is and what you want the outcome of the assignment to be? For example, we often receive inquiries for sales experts. There is an issue with sales so of course, a sales expert is needed. After talking through the situations we find the actual problem that needs to be initially addressed is marketing or engineering/manufacturing. Something to consider – the best individual to help you figure out what the problem is and the expected outcomes may not always be the same person to solve that problem.
Strategy vs. Execution
Having a consultant in for a few days to help you lay out the future of your company and that year’s strategic direction is very different than bringing in the specific management consultant expertise to help implement that plan. Some are great at one or the other, few (regardless of what anyone says) are great at both, especially given the range of expertise you may need for implementation. One thing to keep in mind is the old adage, “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Make sure you are engaging a management consultant can keep an open mind and will help you formulate the right strategy for you and your company vs. the one that he/she is most comfortable with and most knowledgeable of.
Besides determining how much you can afford, also factor in how long it will take to achieve the promised deliverables; which should in most cases pay for itself within a specified period of time. This is why measurable results are important. Everything you contract out to a management consultant should have a good return on investment (ROI).