It’s time for all of us to “work smart”.  An ancient saying, “El Golpe Avisa: our mistakes teach us” is too often the way we respond to business needs. Today’s business and nonprofit worlds are pressure-filled with transformative changes, increasing demands, and diminishing resourcesEven in corporate America, there is no time to plan or strategize. We did have time to do the project again after the “quick fix” failed.  My years of experience as a consultant and hiring consultants have brought many lessons to spark strategic management decisions that are carefully considered and integrated into your company’s goals, structure and culture.

Let’s take the mystery out of the consultant hiring process.  Consultants can be invaluable to an organization, but they are not doctors or band-aids or an immediate “fix.”  Hiring and managing a consultant begins an active working relationship that merits careful consideration and planning from the inside out!   Not a form of speed dating or matchmaking, it is worth the time and preparation to build in success for everyone.

Every engagement is a new beginning: each has its ambiguities and unexpected turns.  I trained to serve as a Kellogg-United Way volunteer trainer carefully working from within each organization, integrating communications and fundraising initiatives into the governing structure.  That process guides my work today with individual clients, nonprofits – and corporations!

Smart Beginnings.  A company self-assessment leads to valuing your team and achievements while analyzing the gaps.  I am sharing three experiences that greatly influenced my focus on planning and governance.

In the mid-1980s, I enthusiastically jumped into a Los Angeles executive director position.  I was recruited to turn around a troubled regional organization with seven subsidiary organizations and a disengaged board of directors.  After an intense Kellogg-United Way board training session, several lethargic board members departed, realizing that they were not committed to the mission. Rebuilding succeeded with new board members, collaborative solutions, and carefully selected consultants during a time of federal retrenchment.

Years later, I was named to a vice presidency position in a New York State public/private organization overseeing a $1M budget. The position had been open for almost two years.  The challenge was to manage 13 staff and 15 consultants. The enthusiasm for change and new ideas that greeted my arrival shifted as many became threatened by change. Carefully considered strategies were critical.

At the heart of each consultant, engagement is careful planning, internal team consensus, and a structured communications and evaluation process.

  • The consultant hiring process has to be carefully planned and integrated into our system and ways of operating.
  • Every project was finalized and approved by the top executive.

A historic assignment started as a consultant, moved to a key management position.  I was recruited to help a small East Los Angeles clinic that was planning a major expansion in 1985. My evolving role over the three-year engagement included communications, corporate relations, name change/branding, advertising, event design, sponsorships, and developing its first for-profit company. And creating a Hollywood extravaganza.  I reported to the executive director while communicating directly with the board president and development members.  It was tempting to detour from the governance structure when the director and I had different perspectives! We did not. The clinic grew to become a regional healthcare company today valued at close to a billion dollars.

The growth and development process offers endless challenges.  It was not flawless.  We need to be structured and to be able to take detours as needed.  You know your own business best with institutional knowledge and understanding.

Collaborate and Ask Critical Questions

  • An initial collaborative assessment is a time of discovery and consideration, fostering ideas and creativity that may be lying dormant.
  • The president, key stakeholders, and staff are involved throughout and share a vision of success for the consultant position.
  • Evaluate your internal resources: skills, financial, information and data, etc.
  • Agree that the consultant’s work is aligned and integrated into the company goals and direction.
  • The consultant is not a “fix-it-quick add-on” but integral to the operation.
  • You have evaluated the strengths and weaknesses and determined how to onboard the consultant:
  • How to monitor, evaluate and change course as required.
  • How to communicate progress and issues with stakeholders and staff, as necessary.
  • How to assuage areas of collaboration or potential conflict with staff positions?
  • The management communications process is clearly defined: who interacts with the consultant, when, and how?
  • Your due diligence and evaluation process is set.

Checklist: Are You Ready to Manage Your Consultant? 

Based on the assessment, write a consultant job description detailing expectations, financial arrangements, guidelines, reporting, etc.  Use language that is clear and concise. Carefully review with the consultant before signing.

  • You are sure about your vision and how it will roll out – and can change direction as needed.
  • Company governance and communications operations are clearly defined and articulated throughout the organization.
  • You have stakeholder and staff buy-in regarding plans and goals.
  • Clearly defined communications and onboarding procedures are in place.
  • The consultant contract and assignments are clearly defined and aligned in a “chapters” format that can be monitored, tracked, evaluated changed, and prepared for integration.

If anyone promises immediate success or believes that they can cure all ills with a bandaid approach – turn away — quickly!

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