Some time ago we talked about the circumstances under which hiring a consultant can add value to a business. If you’ve already established the need to recruit one, pay attention to a few issues before you plunge headlong into a contract. Here’s a quick checklist.
Assess in-house expertise. First of all, make sure that you’re not hiring a consultant to teach you things you already know! The best way to do so is to include your senior managers in the decision, and ask them about the existing pockets of expertise in their respective functions. At the end of it all, you might find that you have a smaller or even no need for an outside expert! Better now, than later.
Investigate credentials. There are consultants, and there are consultants. Each of them will have their strengths and weaknesses. Do a thorough background check on the consultant you plan to hire, in terms of capability, commitment and compatibility. Talk to the consultant’s other clients about their experience, if possible.
Pay attention to the contract. Hiring a consultant is serious and expensive business, and is more likely than not to leave a lasting impact on your company. Hence, you can’t seal a consulting assignment on a mere smile and handshake. Draw up a proper contract, which comprehensively covers all important points relating to the scope of the assignment, costs and fee associated with the engagement, and, of course, key deliverables. Have it looked at by someone who understands legalese.
Sign a confidentiality agreement. A consultant will be privy to a lot of internal data – make sure your interests are protected by getting him or her to sign an agreement of confidentiality. You can find guidelines on drafting one in our earlier story on the subject, or better still. If the project is of critical importance, you may like to include a clause that prohibits the consultant to work with a competitor for a certain period after the completion of your assignment.
Shop around. Price is always an issue, and when it comes to the expensive business of hiring a consultant, even more so. An established consultant may just charge for his or her reputation, make sure you find out what the going rate is. Often, you can agree to a basic fee, topped up by a generous bonus in proportion to the end result.
Describe your requirements. The very purpose of hiring a consultant is defeated if there is no clarity on expected results. It is in your interest to ensure that the boundaries of the engagement are made crystal clear – that includes deliverables, timelines and cost considerations.
Involve your team. This is the most important commandment for a company hiring a consultant. No one likes having an outsider telling them how to do their job, your staff included. Share with them the reason for taking on an expert, and what benefits you expect by doing so. Impress upon them the need to support the project, and its impact on the goals of the organization. Once they get used to the idea, it won’t seem like such a bitter pill to swallow. From your perspective, you need to ensure ground level support, without which you can kiss any chances of successful implementation goodbye!