“We’re working with a consultant” is of the scariest phrases in modern business.

The implication is that the retention of a consultant by an organization is tantamount to top brass’ admission of one of the following:

We have no idea how to run this company
We want to fire people and don’t have the guts to do it
It’s prestigious to spend thousands of dollars on the trendiest thought leaders of the day
Management prefers not to “get their hands dirty” working in the trenches
It’s an easy way to appease the board/investors
The list may very well continue, but this is clear: while the outside consultant model has benefitted many organizations, the trend has also created dependencies that can quickly drain the coffers.

Last week I had a call with a prospective client looking to partner with a professional to shepherd his firm towards smart and sustainable growth. Prior to our call, Mr. Client had received several proposals from “consultants” soliciting the opportunity to facilitate his board retreat and help them to “take the next steps”.

Shockingly, each proposal was sent to him without any dialogue between the client and the soliciting professionals. The proposals included generic services based on assumptions regarding the client’s needs and objectives. No one asked him a single question before making “the ask” for the business.

My call to Mr. Client never mentioned money or logistics. Instead, I used the opportunity to genuinely connect with him so I could be sure that I understood what he/his board was hoping to accomplish by attending a retreat…and more importantly, what obstacles might be lurking just below the surface.

By asking a few questions, I was able to unearth concerns that Mr. Client had not previously considered (at least publicly).

Our candid exchange certainly provided me with the critical information I needed to prepare a thoughtful proposal for services, but the real reason I won the opportunity was my curiosity.
Throughout our dialogue, I demonstrated to Mr. Client the value of taking an intuitive and structured approach to their growth initiatives. I made it clear that my role was not to dictate the direction they should take. Instead, I would help them to lay bare their individual definitions of success and guide them towards the construction of a realistic and sustainable collective vision and execution strategy.

My ultimate goal, as I communicated to him, was to help he and his team create the “muscle memory” necessary to reach their goals on their own, long after my engagement concluded.

If your organization might benefit from an outside perspective and you are considering engaging a consulting professional, before you do so, mull over the following:

Is the consultant curious? Are their questions designed to engender trust or to impress you with their skills?
What is the consultant’s real end game? Are they like a drug dealer seeking to “hook” you on their addictive wares or are they prepared to “push you from the nest” when appropriate?
How have they determined the project scope in their proposal? Is it “off the shelf” or crafted based on your individual needs?
Hiring a consultant can definitely induce fear even in the most sophisticated executives, however, clearly defining both side’s expectations for a project is the best way to maximize your ROI.

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