Consultants can provide meaningful outcomes

As executives continue to balance the twin challenges of growing their businesses while minimizing investments in additional key hires, the strategic consulting business continues to boom. Bringing in an outside hired-gun allows a team to have a fresh perspective and reality check, create a thought partnership with a peer to the team, and minimize the overhead and investment of another key resource.The first stage of a typical engagement includes entry and contracting.While contracting includes a shared understanding of the business issues, the problems to address, milestones, deliverables, deadlines and payment terms, it also includes the “hidden essentials” to cover before the consultant starts the work.Here are some steps to take to ensure that entry and contracting for new consulting engagements set the stage for meaningful outcomes.• Create legitimacy and authorityFirst, the client and consultant must decide the appropriate entry for the consultant into the organization. This entry drives the consultant’s legitimacy and authority within the existing operation. Entry may be as simple as an e-mail announcing a consultant’s involvement on a specific task or introducing the consultant at a team meeting.However it is done, it is essential that the two key parties are in alignment in communicating to others (1) why the consultant is coming on board, (2) how the arrangement will work, (3) what is expected from others (such as time to meet with the consultant or sharing materials that may be needed during the engagement) and (4) the output and when and to whom it will be available.An important note is that the client can give the consultant only so much legitimacy and authority. The rest is up to the consultant and how he builds relationships with each stakeholder.• Enable access to stakeholdersRelated to entry is a mutual understanding and agreement on access to stakeholders who will be involved. Depending on style and trust, some executives give consultants free rein, even to the extent that the outsider can convene team meetings without the primary client’s involvement in the actual meeting. In these instances the client should always be copied on e-mails with agendas and objectives.In some instances, the engagement may also require access to external stakeholders. An introduction by the boss, or even a business card with the company’s logo for longer term projects, enables access (and creates legitimacy and authority) to get the job done right.• Establish communication normsBecause of other commitments and priorities that naturally arise for clients and consultants, it is essential to contract explicitly for how the parties will stay engaged during the course of the work.This means understanding the preferences for communication channels such as e-mail, phone or face-to-face meetings. For items where client feedback is necessary before moving on to next steps, the consultant and client should explicitly coordinate schedules to minimize bottlenecks.• Re-contract when ‘stuff happens’Situations change, scope creep happens, people take vacation or business trips. If there are changes that will have an impact on fulfilling commitments, clients and consultants need to be upfront and proactive as soon as possible.This communication is simply re-contracting for dates, fees, expectations and deliverables, and is necessary to minimize surprise and optimize time for all parties.Contracts should generally include checkpoints to review status and see how actual time and output are aligning to initial agreements.Toral D. Cowieson is the founder of SISUTEK, a market due diligence and product strategy firm based on the New Hampshire seacoast. She can be reached at 603-828-1633