I did not start my professional career as a consultant, although I had the opportunity to. Upon receiving my Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Lehigh University, I had an offer to join a top business consulting firm in New York City. There were a number of reasons that I didn’t accept the offer, the top one being that while I had done very well in my academic career, achieving a high grade point average and working for six summers as an engineer for a highly regarded construction company and as an I.E. for a printing plate company, I didn’t feel that I had the experience and knowledge base to go into a company as a consultant and tell people with 20 or 30 years of experience what they were doing wrong and how they should fix it. What came to mind was how to explain why my recommendations would be received when I had never had to changes and then live with my own decisions and actions. I felt that somewhere down the road this career might be in the offing, but not at that point in my career.
Some 20 years later when I was searching for a new position, my career counselor looked at my experience for the 2 companies I had worked for and said, “You have always been an internal consultant to your companies, you should strongly consider this as your vocation”. And so I did and 22 years and some 300 companies later here I am. My function now is to both convince companies that they both need my and my company’s consulting services and then to deliver workable solutions to their most troublesome problems. Along the way I have had a number of big successes and some projects that didn’t go so well. Those hurt, because I take my work seriously and never want to disappoint a client who has put his or her trust in me to deliver. I relish when objectives are over achieved and have formed many relationships beyond just business with people I have dealt with. Nothing feels better than to get another project because of the success of the last one or to get a referral because Peter and his firm have really helped the company and we know they can help yours as well.
That now brings me to the points of this article, why firms should consider using a consultant, what should you watch for in selecting the right consultant, and what is the consultant’s and the client’s roles in any engagement.
Why hire a consultant
There are a number of reasons why companies should hire a consultant. The ones I believe are the most important are:
Potential Consultant Pitfalls
Not all consultants are created the same. Too many individuals hang out a consultant shingle whether they can actually provide services or not. This gives the profession a bad name and undoubtedly has and is causing issues for companies who thought they were getting good competent help and instead got poor and in some instances harmful advice. Some of the things to watch out for in hiring a good and reputable consultant versus the dangerous kind are:
So the consultant certainly should have some skin in the game. Otherwise he or she is looking at a one shot deal and not at relationship building.
These are all areas to be aware of in dealing with consultants. If you cannot see positives by engaging a person or firm, then either the fit isn’t right or the person / firm are not all they should be. That then brings us to selecting the right consultant.
How to Select the Proper Consultant
As previously mentioned, there are many, many consultants in this country and throughout the world. There are a number of good ones, but there are also some not so good and even downright bad ones. So how do you select one of the good ones? It is a process and takes some time and effort, but if done correctly will result in a successful find and the start of a great relationship. The process to follow is:
There are no guarantees in business, but if you follow these steps, the chances of selecting the right consultant for you are greatly elevated.
Roles and Responsibilities of Both the Consultant and the Client Company
Once the selection has been made, the real work begins. Both you and the consultant have important roles to play that will either ensure that the engagement is successful or could be doomed to failure. If these responsibilities are carried out religiously by both parties, there should be few, if any, problems and all will be well. These are:
These are things I had no idea about after receiving my degrees and joining the working world. They are knowledge acquisitions I have made after dealing both with companies I was a part of and those I have worked with and I now feel more than qualified to direct my clients from a vantage point of both knowledge and practical experience.
If you follow these points you will have a high degree of success in achieving your company goals. If you don’t and follow another course, you may still get there, but I truly believe that the road will be much longer and bumpier. The choice is yours, choose well. A good and reliable consultant can help you to get there.
Peter Christian recently retired as president of Espi, a business consulting company in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley that works with companies throughout the United States in the areas of manufacturing improvements, information system selection and implementation, and project and product management. Mr. Christian had held the position since the company’s inception in 2002. He has more than 40 years of experience in operational growth and improvement, both as a consultant and as an executive with Crayola Corporation. He currently maintains a working relationship with Espi as a contract consultant.