By Robert Craven, MD of The Directors' Centre

Dear Consultancy Purchaser,

Consultancy programmes need to be tailored to your specific needs. Consultancy needs to take account of the needs of your people, your corporate culture and the specific functions and tasks that are involved. Your consultancy provider should have experienced (and professionally qualified) personnel with a proven track record. Talk to recent clients of the consultant and find out exactly what they liked and what they didn’t like about the provider. Find out how the client could have got more out of the programme.

It is important to understand the consultancy practice. Do they only do off-the-shelf work or do they concentrate on the more bespoke/boutique end of the market? Do they focus on the latest fad or are they selling old, out-of-date and inappropriate tools? Does the person who sells the work also deliver? Are they simply on a particular bandwagon e.g. ISO9000, EFQM, IIP?

Get to understand the consultancy firm’s philosophy and approach to its work. Do its own staff and organisation reflect the skills that they are meant to be showing your people? How much time do they spend trying to understand your business and your aspirations?

And do they give you an objective view on your business needs or are they simply in the selling game? Are they interested in developing a long-term, maybe partnership approach to addressing your requirements? You need answers to all these questions. Remember that quick fixes are easy to put in place but miracles (or at least fundamental change) take a little longer!

Most consultancy firms have a systematic approach to addressing client needs. Consultancy practices that I have been involved with follow a five-step pattern similar to the one outlined below:

Step One: Analysis - early meetings are required to build up the rapport and understanding between consultant and client. Discussion about current issues, strengths and weaknesses, enable the consultant to build up a picture, the ‘end in mind’, and start to set some priorities or key objectives.

Step Two: Indicative Proposal - this gives you, the client, a clear indication of the recommended shape, design, content and costs of further programme development. This working document becomes a draft proposal and allows the consultant to put forward recommendations. It also sets the agenda for how the provider wishes to progress the proposal and allows you to comment on how well your needs have been understood and responded to. The desired results must be clearly stated and measurable.

Step Three: Programme Design - programme detail can now be agreed, probably including a fuller, more in-depth Consultancy Needs Analysis (they call it CNA!). Working with you, the provider can ensure that the programme will effectively fit your company culture and aspirations.

Step Four: Programme Delivery - who will do the actual delivery? You need to see them (maybe the dreaded beauty parade), as these are the people who are going to interact with your people. Where, when, and how will the programme be introduced and who will be involved? And, remember why you are putting yourselves through the process!

Step Five: Evaluation - Level One evaluation (aka ‘Happy Sheets’) are fine and dandy but do not really tell you about impact on the bottom-line. Finance Directors will not continue to allow consultancy budgets unless some impact on bottom-line performance can be demonstrated (both formally and informally). Evaluation must reflect the original objectives of the programme and there must be a feedback mechanism so that your organisation hears how it could have managed the whole process more effectively.

If your consultancy provider is following a process similar to the one above then you shouldn’t go far wrong but the centrepiece is probably the CNA so I want to talk a bit more about this process.

Identifying consultancy needs is the process of analysing consultancy requirements as a basis for preparing the programme itself. What you are essentially doing is identifying the gap between how things are and how you would like them to be. The gap is the difference between how the organisation is performing and how it should be performing; what people know and can do and what they should know and should be able to do; the gap between what your people actually do and what they should be able to do.

The role of consultant can encapsulate many different styles, depending on the degree of skills transfer and the degree of solutions required; consulting skills go from the analyst, counsellor, instructor and commentator, through to expert, exemplar, collaborator, adviser and interventionist. You are buying results and it is their job to put together the package that will deliver the required results.

I hope I have given you some insight into how to approach your consultancy requirements.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Craven
The Directors' Centre

P.S. All too often people buy consultancy because they believe that it is a good thing like motherhood and apple pie. Do not buy consultancy just because it’s ‘what your people need’. Please be clear about what you are trying to achieve and how the consultancy will benefit the organisation. Otherwise don’t bother; I’m sure that I can find plenty of effective ways of spending your money.

Robert Craven's new book, Grow Your Service Firm, is soon to be published. To see more about the book and to get your own pre-signed and pre-publication copy, go to www.robert-craven.com