Building the Right Consulting Relationships (Part I)
Choosing the right partnership
Why do some external consulting relationships seem to thrive, while others can become very challenging? But there is a simple process for creating a win/win situation for consulting engagements, thus gaining maximum value and return for both parties.
The Right Value Proposition:
Firstly to win a customers trust we need to add value. But beyond that specialist knowledge, expertise, objectivity and support are some of the key reasons for an organisation to hire Lydian as their preferred partner. It is wonderful when a consulting relationship works well, yet not all do. So why do some external consulting relationships seem to thrive, while others can become extremely challenging?
In this article, we want to explore how and why a niche service provider has significantly benefited from its consulting engagements, and how they differentiate by apply these to each and every consulting engagement, partner and organisation, no matter its type or size.
These are the key steps for Success
While strategy-setting is a vital and necessary part of any consulting relationship, the reality is that strategy is typically just a small part of the overall work provided by in any consulting engagement. Far more time and budget is spent on implementation, which highlights the need for a great consulting relationship fit. With that in mind, here are the key steps that are vital for implementation-related success.
1: Become a trusted advisor – Think of this as the difference between a “good,” a “bad” or an “ugly” consultant (please excuse the spaghetti Western pun). At the end of the day, we want to be the scrupulously honest and trustworthy “good” consultant who will tell the client what they need to hear, in an artful and informed way. Additionally we need to integrate well with the client team. That is invaluable counsel we must portray at all levels in the organisation.
By contrast, a “bad” consultant is a “yes person” who does not add real value, unbiased insight or contribute to the client and team relationship. An “ugly” consultant is someone who is negatively disruptive to the team chemistry and activities.
So how can we ensure the ideal fit of expertise and personality in a “good” consulting engagement, or be referred to as a partner with these characteristics?
- Know your team – Take time to understand each member of our team, including their personalities, likes and dislikes. Know that while we can choose our consultant teams, we cannot immediately choose the employees who already work in our client organisations. Understanding our people to this level helps us to ensure we can work with challenging situations supporting our clients to develop similar mind-sets.
- Gather and consolidate our team’s input – When our clients are considering and interviewing potential consulting partners, we openly support this vetting process. We want our client partnership to be above an individual deal. Our consultants credentials are impeccable in this regard. We believe the key to our teams success is fundamentally trust and that we will openly share our beliefs and feelings with our clients in an ethical partnership agreement.
- Considering Cultural Values – A “good” consulting partner becomes part of the clients existing culture, as opposed to seeking to impose their own cultural interests. Ideally, we want to strike a balance between having a consulting team who “blends into” the client organisation yet still retains an independent and candid perspective.
- Think collaboration – In very limited cases will a consultant be able to solve a clients problem(s) by himself/herself. It is far more than likely that both consulting team members and client will not be able to solve the problem(s) by themselves. Results will come only by client employees and consulting teams working together, which is why chemistry is so important. The focus should be on seamless integration with clients as trusted advisors.
2: Set expectations and position for success – It’s important to know right away that provides open and honest feedback as consulting firm we want to position ourselves as that trusted advisor, this includes giving the unbiased hard truths – things you may not “want” to hear but still need to know. How do we achieve this? Look to engage and start with small, niche projects, and let consultants demonstrate his/her abilities to you and others in your organisation. We recommend that you plan to collect input on our consultant’s performance from other internal team members. Then when the consultant’s reviews and results are positive, we look to engage with larger, longer-term projects. If we get any negative feedback, we look to correct this with our client to ensure the trusted partnership is developed and use this information as background to improve our consulting relationships. We accept that no relationship will be ? percent perfect ? percent of the time but with good and trusted feedback we can ensure that our partnerships are successful.
Other ways of ensuring we receive open and honest feedback:
- Lay the ground rules: no repercussions for candour – It is common for staff members to be afraid of escalating issues to their superiors, because they think they will be reprimanded for doing so. It is important to find an artful consulting firm that can flex and accommodate the input of a range of personalities. Consultants can be an excellent source of “anonymous” information within client organisations, provided that trust has been established.
- Get recommendations – While most consultants can easily spot flaws and faults, not all are equally adroit at proposing and executing solutions. A good consulting firm must tell the client what they need to hear constructively, but also give multiple options to address issues and risks with a recommended course of action.
- Requesting feedback – Proactively request feedback about performance, and be open-minded to the input mechanism. We understand that many team members will not be comfortable sharing their assessments directly so offer anonymous input and feedback mechanisms. Obtaining feedback about style, outcomes and communication is another benefit that a good partner can bring to you and your organisation. If you learn that you are part of or contributing to a problem, The trusted partner can support and take immediate steps to address this deficiency and make your performance stronger.
3: Prepare to collect and transfer consulting knowledge – It is critical to have in place a system and processes for gathering and storing the consulting knowledge gained. Lydian can support the knowledge transfer and ensure it can be readily retrieved. This is not just a summary report but rather a transferrable roadmap.
Gaining your consulting input in knowledge collection and transfer includes:
- Specify up-front knowledge transfer expectations – The trusted partner (consulting team) will provide and support a strategy for knowledge transfer, and the roles and responsibilities of each person in the process. A key consideration is “Knowledge transfers should be ongoing” not just at the end of an engagement. This does have a cost overhead but ensuring that a plan is in place for regularly sharing knowledge. A partner must believe that a system for learning, collecting and using the knowledge, tools and/or data is critical to the client.
- Emphasise tool-gathering – Collect all tools that can help perpetuate work, such as a work plan, issues log, software solution, etc. Think sustainability of efforts. The worst thing that can occur in a consulting relationship is that all of the work your team and consultant achieved comes apart once the consultant departs. A partner must insist on clear handover be part of the engagement.
- Seek input on future needs – Be open to future needed changes within the team and organisation, the partners consultants should provide a list of recommendations to our clients. Our clients should consider these recommendations a perfunctory future wish list; this can then with the trusted partners support become a solid roadmap to help guide a clients future work goals and strategies.
When a client engages with a trusted partner they are taking on a solid consulting engagement plan, minimising any doubts (around budget, ego, etc.) that you or others might have about a consulting relationship. Ultimately, my goal is to create a win/win for your organisation and the consulting firm chosen. The goal of both should always be that the client gains maximum value from the partnership. By following the steps above, I believe that clients should be well on their way toward achieving this goal.