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How To Get The Most Out of Your Management Consultants While Spending The Least On Them?

The Quality of Your Management Consultants Will Decide The Heights You Eventually Climb To

Yes, everybody – from Steve Jobs (when he was alive) to the biggest Private Equities – uses management consultants. In fact, it will be safe to say that if you are not using management consultants, you may not be getting anywhere.

That is not to say that everyone who is using management consultants is making great progress.

The BIG difference is that those who get the right advice at the right time in the right manner, get the best value (for their companies, and for themselves).

In this piece, I am not going to answer who is the right consultant for you, and how to choose one. That is probably a topic for another blog.

The key question that I will address here is really the one on top of this page.

So, let us just start with two assumptions:

  1. You have determined that ‘this project’ is so important /urgent / critical (or something else) that you need external expertise, help or assistance for it to get done.
  2. You have, by some algorithm or heuristic, determined who is (or are) the right person/s to provide this external expertise, help or assistance.

Now the burning question is – How To Get The Most Out of Your Management Consultants While Spending The Least On Them?

Similar to all other industries, the value chain in management consulting industry is fast unraveling. Most clients are much more sophisticated than 2-3 decades ago, and do not buy into the mystique of the brand.

A whole bunch of ex-consultants from the top-tier brands are freelancing, and have created their own boutiques while specialising and amassing formidable knowledge base.

Many of them have created networks which allow them to bring the best of top-tier brands at a fraction of the price.

In this context here are FIVE suggestions, in escalting costs and commitment, to get the best out of your management consultants:

1. BUY THE BOOK, ALWAYS

Many top boutique consultancies have by now amassed such a vast repertoire of expertise in their own narrow area that they could be rightly named as world’s best in that area of expertise. They have distilled and condensed this expertise into book/s which are always worth way more than the price charged for them, simply because they offer a lifetime of experience in a few hours worth of reading.

Sure, sometimes key actionable details might be held back, but they are easy to discern from the general gist of the material. Because many people keep the books to a level of the lowest common denominator, some of them can also be too simplistic, and that is the reason for moving on the step 2.

2. GET THE RELEVANT REPORTS AND E-COURSES, IF AVAILABLE

While books may sometimes be diluted to target the lowest common denominator, reports and e-courses are now being produced to the highest professional level that these boutiques are capable of. Of course, you still have to pick the right consultant, but chances are that you can ask them to sell you their methodology, or gist of expertise in the form of an e-course, or report for a very small fraction of price that they would charge to perform the service itself.

Now you may think why would a consulting firm do this? Will this not cannibalise their business model?

While this possibility does exist, most good boutiques almost always have more project work than what they would like to do. After all they are the global subject matter experts in this area. So, how do they avoid doing the same thing over and over again? You are right, by putting their methodology down as a series of steps and letting their potential clients follow the same steps that they would have taken.

Of course, there is always the danger that the client teams would not be able to do it all by themselves. But, for overcoming that problem, see point #5.

3. ASK FOR A PRESENTATION AT THE BOARD, OR, MANAGEMENT, MEETING

Many boards, and management teams are not entirely convinced that the project is required. Frequently, the members have vastly different opinions, and do not have time to go through books, or reports – even if these are sent to them.

As a starting point, to bring everyone on the same page it is highly useful to have a presentation from a subject matter expert, and, a discussion subsequent to it. This offers an opportunity to get one of the the world’s best experts come in and explain the value of their area of expertise for the company, and for the company to debate the value among themselves, and with the expert/s.

Subsequent action plans, if any, can be formulated at the end of this discussion where all these, and many other options, might be put on the table.

This is, by far, the best way to start an engagement on a positive note.

4. ASK IF THEY CAN RUN A WORKSHOP

A much more engaging start is by conducting a full day, or two day workshop. In many cases, this may be the only engagement you need, whereby bulk of the knowledge transfer happens during the workshop and your team/s are well equipped to handle the project subsequent to the workshop.

Of course, a workshop costs much more than a board presentation, and your team may not yet be fully ready for it – especially if the board or senior management is still not on the same page. Yet, the only way to cover the topic in enough detail to make a dent into it is by doing an intense workshop.

5. ASK FOR ON-DEMAND SUBJECT MATTER ADVISORY

None of the above four ways of engaging precludes you from coming up with an arrangement where your team has access to the expertise of your preferred consultant when they most need it.

Most top boutique owners and subject matter experts have tens of thousands of hours of expertise with hundreds (or even thousands) of similar situations.

For this reason, they are able to quickly size up the circumstances and, similar to a good lawyer, doctor, or any other professional, come up with the best course of action in the situation based on a handful of possible root causes. They can suggest the hypotheses, how to test them, what to do after testing, and how to formulate action plans based on the test results.

In other words, while they may not yet know exactly what to do, they will easily know how to find our exactly what to do.

After that, who is the best team to carry out the action can be determined independently, or with their help.

As one highly experienced client told me nearly two decades ago:

This expertise is really the only thing we want from consultants. We hate to pay several hundreds of dollars, per hour of time, for novices fresh out of college. We detest having to fly the novices first class, and pay for super luxury hotels for their stay. But we put up with all that, just to access few hours of expertise of the top partners.

With the disruption in the consulting business model – you do not have to put up with all these inconveniences, when all you want is a few hours/days of time of a super expert.

Just ask for exactly what you want, and pay for it. It is that simple.

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