Choosing a Consultant? 7 Critical Questions to Ask First

by | Oct 11, 2019 | Organizational Leadership | 1 comment

Between endless paperwork, heading multiple projects, and generally running a tight ship, most organizational leaders have a lot on their plates. 

For growing organizations, leaders have to be able to adapt quickly to rally their teams around new initiatives, and their organizations can’t afford to follow faulty strategies. That kind of effective leadership requires training and reinforcement. That’s where executive consulting comes in.

It’s easy to deny extra help in order to protect your pride, but it’s okay to ask for a helping hand. It doesn’t mean you’re a poor leader; it just means there are some areas where you can improve!

If your organization feels as though it can benefit from external help, consider these key questions before investing in a new executive consultant:

  1. What’s currently changing?
  2. Are we struggling to manage or lead?
  3. What kind of help do we want?
  4. Does the consultant’s approach align with our views and needs?
  5. Am I choosing a consultant that’s qualified?
  6. How do different consultants measure progress?
  7. What’s our budget for an consultant?

You can be an inspiring leader for your team and a major asset for your organization, but there’s no way around the fact that leadership is very hard work. 

Remember, all professional leaders have their weaknesses. Helping you understand those weaknesses and learning to adapt quickly is how an executive consultant can take your organization and your leadership skills to the next level. Consider these vital questions before moving forward with the hiring process.

Consider what's currently changing in your organization when choosing a consultant.

1. What’s currently changing?

Organizations most often seek out the help of consultants during periods of change or transition. Charting into unknown territory can make room for a lot of management mistakes. Before researching specific coaches or consultants, consider what’s changing in your organization, whether it’s the managerial structure, marketing strategies, or some other major evolution.

When you don’t have any experience in a new area that your team is exploring, a consultant in your industry may help bridge the gap without wasting any time. For instance, nonprofit organizations probably wouldn’t undertake a major migration to a brand new donor database without the help of a tech consultant (or at least someone who knows what they’re doing). 

Just as with technology, your leadership strategies are too impactful on your organization to leave up to chance.  

Be specific when listing your recent or upcoming changes so that you can pinpoint where you need help and where you don’t. To do this, ask yourself the following:

  • Is there an existing strategy that your team can apply to these changes? 
  • If there’s not an existing strategy, could an external, objective expert help ease the process of implementing these changes?
  • Are you slowly implementing these changes, or are they being implemented quickly and are highly urgent?
  • What if the changes fail? Does your team have a backup plan?

You want a consultant that improves your workflow, not disrupts it, so take the time to list out major changes in your organization that require you to use unfamiliar strategies.

Analyzing your changing processes not only helps determine where you need help, but it also gives the consultant a starting place once you actually hire one. 

Consider any leadership struggles within your organization when choosing a consultant.

2. Are we struggling to manage or lead?

As long as your organization is doing well logistically, your management style doesn’t matter, right? Wrong.

Proper management is often overlooked if the organization’s core logistics, like annual revenue, look right. If you want to surpass expectations and truly thrive, you’ll need a happy, cohesive team, which stems from an organized, considerate management structure.

Management is a tricky task, because not everyone agrees with one leadership style. For instance, some employees want leaders to be more head-on while others prefer room for creativity and autonomy. Start by identifying your current team and what strategies have worked and haven’t worked with individuals in the past.

Determine what beliefs and behaviors you want to implement in your management strategy so that when you hire a consultant, they’ll be able to come up with the right solutions specific to your organization.

Consider what kind of help you want when choosing a consultant.

3. What kind of help do we want?

Consultants come in many shapes and forms. Again, the best consultant depends on your organization’s wants and needs. From there, you can determine the best fit for the job!

There are different consultants for different areas, like a fundraising consultant who can reshape a nonprofit’s strategy to raise more revenue for their mission or a human resources consultant to improve internal relations at a growing business. To determine this, ask yourself the following:

  • Do we need help to resolve one particular issue, like management support, or multiple areas, like organizational structure and employee retention, too? 
  • Do we want an all-in-one package, or are we willing to hire multiple external partners to fill in our weak spots?

Also, consider the approach you’d like your consultant to take. For instance, you may want a:

  • Prescriptive approach. This involves minimal involvement with your team. A consultant who uses this approach will provide recommendations based solely on their expertise.
  • Facilitative approach. This is a more hands-on approach. A consultant will focus more on your processes and the dynamics between your employees, with active team and leader input.
  • A hybrid approach. Most consultants combine these approaches. They take a few strategies from each depending on the particular context and your team’s unique needs.

When you determine the kind of help you want, make sure you get the right fit for your particular situation, not a one-size-fits-all strategy that won’t deliver sustainable, long-term value to your organization.

Consider your organization's views when choosing a consultant.

4. Does the consultant’s approach align with our views and needs?

If your consultant doesn’t have chemistry with your team, everyone will be in for a bumpy ride. All personalities are different. Some complement one another while others simply clash. 

By choosing a consultant who takes your wants and needs into consideration, you’ll have a much better chance of improving all those weak areas you’ve identified. 

In addition to an effective, understanding personality, your consultant should maintain:

  • Objectivity. You’re bringing in an outside perspective because you’re too close to the action yourself and need another opinion. Your consultant should be empathetic and experienced in order to help you take a realistic look at your organization and envision new possibilities.
  • Confidentiality. If you don’t have an executive consultant that will keep your information and experience with them private, don’t hire them. Organizations can’t afford to risk sensitive information, because one leaked sensitive issue — such as an employed leader’s bad standing with the organization — that you’ve asked advice on how to handle can lead to a world of problems.

Don’t just jump on board with the first consultant that you come across. Take the time to get to know them, so you can figure out if their personality will be a good fit for your team!

Consider their qualifications when choosing a consultant.

5. Am I choosing a consultant that’s qualified?

You probably want an executive consultant who has a considerable amount of experience with other organizations like yours, not one that’s entirely new to the game or that has never worked with growing organizations before.

They should understand the market, the industry, and the variance between key functional leadership roles. If they have limited knowledge and can’t provide you with much more advice than simplistic opinions, it will show in their work for you. For an idea of their qualifications, consider their:

  • Background. There’s not any single certification that determines a consultant’s credibility. Instead, you should take a look at their education, advanced training, and relevant experience with similar organizations. Checking in with a candidate’s references can be the most insightful part of the whole hiring process.
  • Connections. It’s to your advantage to engage a consultant with relationships with the highest-performing leaders within the industry. This provides them with the best possible connections and you with the best possible resources. 
  • Accessibility. You also need to understand their standard approach to consulting. Will they come to you? Are they open to working with you remotely? Determine whether their accessibility will work for your team beforehand.

Choose a qualified consulting, even if one who is just getting started. Just because they are new to consulting doesn’t mean they are “unqualified.” 

Consider how to measure progress when choosing a consultant.

6. How do different consultants measure progress?

You may experience slow growth but have no idea that your weak areas are actually improving if you don’t have some way of measuring it. You might get frustrated, thinking nothing’s getting better, and fire your consultant when in actuality, your weak spots were improving!

Your potential consultant should have a set way to measure progress, not just leave it as a guessing game. Perhaps they:

  • Set goals and benchmarks for a specific timeline.
  • Compare pre- and post-engagement data.
  • Look at leader/employee levels of engagement.

Measuring success could even be as simple asking for your staff feedback. The most important thing is to have some metric by which to gauge your progress. Whatever approach they take, make sure it falls in line with your personal improvement goals as well as your team’s goals.

Once you start researching specific executive consultants’ styles and approaches, you may find it beneficial to reach out to them and ask them a few more questions to find the best fit for your team.

Consider your organization's budget when hiring a consultant.

7. What’s our budget for an consultant?

Last but certainly not least, consider how much your team is willing to invest in a consultant. A consultant may fulfill all your organization’s needs and then some, but if their services are simply out of budget, it can still be difficult to justify bringing them on board.

On the other hand, you may talk with your team and determine that your budget is too small to cover the services that are vital for your group’s success.

When determining your budget, consider all of the necessary components, like your gaps, staff buy-in, essential qualifications, and so forth. The price of a consultant will depend on the scope or intensity of the engagement, the number of needed hours, the type of work they’re doing, and their level of experience.

Whether or not one consultant can fulfill all of your needs is dependent on the amount of work that needs to be done. Keep in mind that you may need multiple consultants over an extended period of time who are versed in different areas and adjust your budget accordingly.

Don’t undershoot your budget, but also don’t devote it all to consulting services that aren’t fully tailored to your needs. In the end, your staff will thank you and so will your wallet.

An executive consultant can be a huge asset for your organization, providing you with all the help you need to get your strategies back on track.

Don’t feel pressure to just choose the first consultant you see, take the time to determine why you need one by looking at what’s currently changing in your organization and any management problems

From there, determine the kind of help you want, and make sure your potential consultant considers your views, has a way to measure your progress, and is backed with experience.

Remember, not all consultants are created equally. Some may charge a premium for simple services simply because they have more experience while others may be less costly but fail to offer all the support you need. Determine which characteristics are vital to fulfilling your team’s needs, and set your budget from there.

Hiring an executive consultant can be intimidating because it takes a lot of research. Don’t be deterred, though. Your team can benefit significantly when you take the time to choose the right consultant!

1 Comment

  1. Kartik

    Before choosing a consultant for your organization you need to ask these questions in order to clear your doubts. Ask yourself whether you will be able to manage them or not, do you have enough budget, do you really need a consultant, does their approach matches or not, etc.


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