Professional Skepticism: Finding the Best Consultant for your Company
When it comes to abstract qualitative work it’s often hard to define the best approach or the best person for the job until after the job is done. Quality is determined after the fact, based on outcomes, and since each company has unique needs, impacts are difficult to predict. So how do you choose the consultant that will produce the best outcomes for your company?
At Stratizant, we’ve worked with countless clients who have diverse challenges to overcome from optimizing data integration to improving employee workflows. We’ve seen firsthand what kinds of client-consultant relationships produce the best outcomes. This guide discusses some important and often overlooked factors like professional skepticism, trusting partnerships, and adaptability to help you find the best consultant for your company.
When looking for a consultant many people look for those who have industry expertise and a good track record. While these factors are important, the collaborative nature of consulting requires us to consider qualitative factors that impact how the consultants work, rather than the outcomes they produce alone. Consulting is a creative problem solving process where outcomes hinge on the relationship between client and consultant.
It’s About the Process, Not the Work
A great consultant needs to understand why their services are needed.
Clients often come to Stratizant with specific asks. They claim to need a new tool, for example, and hire us to build it. Task-based consulting like this doesn’t set clients up for optimal outcomes. As consultants, we need to understand the ‘why’ behind the task and the desired business outcomes. As the old adage goes: you don’t buy a drill because you need a drill, you buy a drill because you need a hole in the wall.
Understanding the underlying needs behind the ask allows us to reframe the problem in ways that create new solution opportunities.
For example, one of our clients at Stratizant brought us in to resolve problems with a system that wasn’t scalable and had many bugs. We began with a small two-person team doing discovery work and expanded as the need to re-architect the system became evident. Rather than coming in to fix the individual bugs, we asked the questions that lead to an understanding of the underlying problem and developed a holistic solution.
Great consultants aren’t task oriented, they are outcome oriented. When hiring consultants, companies should look for a healthy dose of professional skepticism. Their consulting partner should ask the right questions to get at the underlying problems and needs in order to define the best solution, rather than starting at the solution and hoping for positive outcomes.
A Foundation of Trust
Many consulting relationships are task oriented because they lack a foundation of trust. It’s easier to tell a consultant what an apparent need is, rather than to trust them with looking under the hood of the company and defining problems and solutions for themselves.
The best outcomes however, come from letting consultants lead. It’s therefore imperative that you choose a consultant you can build deep trust with.
At Stratizant, we’ve seen a variety of different working relationships. The term “partnership” gets thrown around a lot, but a true partnership is one where the client trusts the consultant to take a lead role in directing and managing transformations, and where the consultant communicates their processes, progress, and expectations along the way.
Establishing a partnership is not as easy as it sounds. There are competing needs and goals, even within a single company. Though everyone may want improved business outcomes, there can be vastly different ideas for how to achieve them. For example, an HR department may give consultants the freedom to make decisions as they see fit to create better working environments for a team, while the financial department of the same company places restrictions on that work in order to be cost effective. Both of those goals are valid, but the conflicting expectations and added limitations undermine a partnership between the company and their consultants.
True partnerships built on trust create space for the changes that lead to ideal business outcomes.
Riding the Wave
You’ve heard time and again how important adaptability is, but are you factoring adaptability into your decision about which consultant is best for your organization?
The first 4-6 weeks of a consulting partnership can be overwhelming, both for the client and the consultant. The client has to adjust to working with a third party with their own workflows, needs, expectations, and ideas. For the consultant, there is an extensive amount of information to absorb in order to effectively guide a company, which can often feel like drinking from a firehose. It’s critical during this adjustment period and beyond, that both the company and their consultants maintain dynamism as they absorb new information and ideas.
The best outcomes come from consulting partnerships where neither party is attached to their solutions. When new information is uncovered, adaptable partnerships follow those leads and adjust their plans accordingly.
Many people gravitate towards quantitative criteria for defining the best consultant for the job. That often begins with evaluating industry expertise. But expertise is not the most important factor for producing fruitful outcomes. Great consultants strive for fruitful outcomes rather than task-completion. That depends on a partnership built on trust and perpetual adaptability. When looking for a consultant it’s important to look for professional skepticism, building a foundation of trust, and maintaining adaptability. Approaching the relationship in this way creates the kind of working partnerships that optimize impact and produce positive business outcomes.