By Kris Putnam-Walkerly
1. Understand all your goals. First, take the time to fully understand the problems you want to resolve. Be clear about what you expect the consultant to accomplish and identify all the key stakeholders who may need to be engaged in the project. Engage your consultant in helping you think through your objectives. It’s also essential to identify any barriers to the project’s success and to be clear about your timeframe and budget.
2. Identify the right consultant. Once your goals are clearly outlined, find a consultant with the right skills and experience. Would you prefer to work with a sole proprietor or a large consulting firm? What capacity do they need to scale up a large project? Do you need a consultant who knows your local community, or would it help to get an outside perspective? Do they need specific content expertise (e.g., workforce development) or process expertise (e.g., conducting focus groups)? Then be sure to check references and conduct due diligence before finalizing an agreement.
3. Establish a clear relationship. When you initiate a project with a new consultant, you’re laying the foundation for a relationship that could prove highly beneficial for many years to come. Explain your needs clearly and answer any questions the consultant may have. Be sure to agree upon the scope of work and on how you’ll work together. Finally, provide your consultant with all the necessary introductions, along with background information, and, if needed, infrastructure support.
4. Manage for success. Even with the best consultant on your team, you won’t be able to delegate everything, so be sure to build in enough time to manage your project. You may want to check in with your consultant on a regular basis to air any concerns, troubleshoot potential problems or discuss findings. Remember that if you add deliverables to the contract, the fee and timeline may also need to be extended.
5. Conclude and debrief the engagement. It’s important to officially conclude your engagement when it’s complete. Meet with your consultant to provide feedback and discuss how you intend to put the findings to work in your organization. Have an honest conversation about the consulting relationship and discuss ways you might work more effectively together in the future. We all learn from experience, and this is where you both have the greatest opportunity to voice what you learned.
When you enter your relationship with a consultant with a shared, clear understanding of your goals, roles, and expectations, you are on your way to a successful endeavor. For more tips on working with consultants, check out “20 Ways A Consultant Can Make Your Life Easier,” “Don’t Need A Consultant? 5 Good Reasons You Might Be Wrong,” and “10 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring Philanthropy Consultants.”
Kris Putnam-Walkerly, the president of Putnam Consulting Group, is a recognized expert and leader in philanthropic strategy development, implementation, evaluation, and communication. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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