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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Vivek Sood

I write about "The Supply Chain CEOs", "The 5-STAR Business Networks", and, how to "Unchain Your Corporation". In my work, I help create extraordinary corporate results using several 'unique' supply chain methodologies. Contact me for interesting, high impact projects, or, to get access to my IP for creating transformations using these methodologies.

  • Thinker says:

    Good tips. It is good to think outside the box even when considering employing consultants in our company. What is the role of business schools in this new scenario?

    • chiefstaff says:

      Business school, if they were ever relevant, are falling behind in knowledge creation due to their antiquated PhD processes, and irrelevance to the business world. The so called ‘scientific method’ is not so scientific when applied in business.

  • […] Most good consulting companies have more work enquiries than they can actually fulfil – read this blog post if you want to know more about the view from the other side of the table. As a bonus, you […]

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  • […] Most good consulting companies have more work enquiries than they can actually fulfil – read this blog post if you want to know more about the view from the other side of the table. As a bonus, you […]

  • […] my last article titled – “How To Get The Most Out Of Your Management Consultants While Spending […]

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  • […] my last article titled – “How To Get The Most Out Of Your Management Consultants While Spending […]

  • Eberlin says:

    Coming across this article, I am standing at a point where I could distinguish between a good and a useless consultant. Choosing a consultant is undoubtedly a matter of great concern. I have been following the posts related to this topic and your this article has broadened my vision. The thought process behind this activity requires a lot of patience and time. The more patient you are the good consultant you get. The amount of time you spent searching for a suitable consultant, always pays you back. The consultant abilities and capabilities determine the direction of future partnerships and professional alliances.

  • Lesley Ann says:

    You are right Mr. Vivek. I have suffered a lot while I once started my first small scale business. I was quite enthusiastic at the beginning and my ambitions were touching the sky. I started with a small setup and installed all the required software and hardware related stuff. The physical presence of my whole business setup was complete and now the next task was hiring the employees who can assist me running my business well. I almost hire persons for every other position except consultant. It was such a difficult phase I faced during that time. I just kept on searching for a competent consultant and I found him after a one year hunt. Now I am successfully running my business by getting expert consultancy services.

  • Huddleston says:

    Consultants are humans don’t take them as superhumans. Well, consultancy thing looks easy from the outside but it’s totally horrible on the inside. Yes, I am saying it horrible because I have experienced this shit very closely. I have worked as a consultant with different companies. The thing I can say for sure is people expect too much from a consultant. Company executives leave all the responsibility on the consultant and blame them for every bad instance happened to the project. As a consultant, I have encountered this problem a hundred times when I was held responsible even for every little thing. Let’s consider consultants human beings lets accept that consultant can make mistakes too.

  • Barklay says:

    Woo-hoo, while there is so much discussion on choosing a better consultant, I wouldn’t mind adding my thoughts too. Whenever I hear the word “consultant” I imagine a very well-dressed person, sitting on a revolving chair with a wide decorated table placed in front of him in a room of enough width and space, and doesn’t do anything whole day long. As my imagination goes on, I imagined there would be a handsome salary that companies offer the consultant and the only thing he does is collecting salaries at the end of the month and that’s all. Now I wonder if I was wrong the whole length of time? Isn’t it that easy job as I imagined it to be?

  • Nixon Marsh says:

    Good article Vivek. It is the title of your article that attracted my attention and after reading the whole article I agree with you on every aspect you wrote. Where you have made your first assumption “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” you perhaps forgot to mention the points on which this “determination” is based. What factors determine that the project is urgent, critical and important? How the importance of a project is measured? What is the element that makes the project to be termed as critical? Firstly, if you are aware of all these determination instances and then we can move forward. I hope to read an article covering all these aspects soon.

  • Charles Hilsbro says:

    The biggest concern these days is definitely the exploration of a consultant that is skillful and least expensive. Even if the consultant is competent but expensive, most companies prefer not to hire their services. Most of the companies go out of the budget in the race of hiring the consultants on substantial costs. It is not easy finding an economic consultant, I admit, but at the same time, it is also not something impossible. The companies need to be more attentive and vibrant while hiring consultants. Sometimes, the executives overlook many things just because the consultant they are aspiring to hire has previously worked with many renowned companies and professionals. They pay such consultants more than their capacity and run short of their financials.

  • Carson says:

    Haste makes waste. The haste companies make choosing consultants, waste their resources. In my company, I have heard my managers and executives saying “the expensive consultants are the best choices”. And they not only say this sadly they practically do this as well. Whenever the hiring process initiates, they keep on ignoring the newcomers and those who offer their services at lower costs. No matter how incompetent the consultant is, if he is presenting himself as an expensive man, they would hire him at once. Such an approach actually jeopardizes the success of many important projects. The executives must think wisely and shouldn’t make hasty decisions in this regard.

  • Ben Tenneson says:

    Expensive consultants are trendy these days. Due to some stupid and repute obsessed people, such trends are gaining weight with every passing day. It’s the height of stupidity if your motive is to follow the trend blindly. The sick minds promote these nasty trends and senseless are those who follow the suite. This is quite ridiculous! Are you supposed to hire the goofs into your business? Lemme remind you the only thing goofs can do is creating a mess all around them and everyone would be screaming like trouble! trouble! and trouble! And the other possibility could help! please help our poor souls getting out of this hell.

  • Steinberger says:

    I wonder how technical the choice of a consultant could be. I never thought it would be this much complicated until I experienced myself. Vivek, this article of yours took me to the time when I was studying in college and my uncle was running a firm. I used to assist him in maintaining his financials quite often. During that course of time, I realized how complicated in fact crucial is the role of consultant. The whole bunch of critical projects was handed over to the consultant. I also observed that it was not the responsibility of the consultant only to look after the projects but my uncle also guided him throughout the project. I think it is all about sharing the responsibilities rather than relying and spending on a consultant.

  • Kate_44 says:

    I am a student and I aspire to initiate a startup in the near future. I just keep on following your articles to understand the business perspective from different dimensions. This read is pretty favorable for people like me who want to start a business with low budgets. This article has given me an insight that how can I manage hiring a cheapo consultant. I would request you to write more articles like this so that I learn to earn within my budget constraints. Does the consultant always welcome working with new setups? Or they are reluctant to give them a chance as they afraid that their reputation would be at stake by extending their service to newborn businesses?

  • Eggleston Vogt says:

    Yes man, you need to sit and stay calm as your consultant is dealing with your entire project. Remember, you own the project; your only job to do is just to monitor the project. But wait! take a deep breath and think for a second and ask yourself a question, is this a really sensible approach? Am I going or doing right? The answer to most of you would be a big NO, I know that. Sitting and relaxing doesn’t assure the attainment of your goals. Get up! leave the chair and see what your consultant on whom you are spending tons of money is doing right. Relaxing would take you nowhere, monitoring would do.

  • KAne Kurdon says:

    While everyone is talking about consultants, executives, managers, and companies let’s talk about teamwork. Ever wonder why some companies are successful while others are not. Some companies yield more revenues while others don’t. The answer is simple, the teamwork. Teamwork strengthens the project foundations and makes everything possible. The consultant with project team could turn the wrong into right. This is the secret of success. Even in a family, when all the family members are united and put their combined efforts to solve a domestic problem, the problem evaporates. Apply the same to an industry-company, the consultant is not the master of the whole affairs. Problems could be copped with collective energies indeed.

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