10 Tips on How to Find the Right Business Consultant
If you are interested in how to find a business consultant in Belgrade or elsewhere, you are bound to wonder which criteria would be most useful for this task. At any rate, finding the right person to help you improve your business is no mean feat. In order to make things easier for managers and CEO’s, we have collected the most important things to bear in mind when searching for a business consultant for your company. You can also use them as a check list. You are very welcome!
Let’s start from the beginning.
The job of a consultant is to consult you. No less, but also no more than that. And however generalized or banal it may sound, all those in need of this sort of service find this definition the clearest. If you ever wonder whether you have found the right consultant, just go back to it to remind you of what your goal is.
What distinguishes a good consultant from a bad consultant?
For starters, their motivation and passion for this line of work. But, let’s start from the basic qualifications.
1. Professional qualifications
It is important that the consultant that you have chosen has the right qualifications in the area in which you expect to receive consulting services. That they are better versed in it than you or your company, right? We recommend that you check their education and experience.
The level of the consultant’s experience should match the challenge that your company is facing.
You do not want someone who does not have a lot of experience in the area in which you need help. The simple equation goes like this: the less time you spend examining the consultant’s education and experience, the greater the chances of finding the wrong person to help you in what you are dealing with.
2. Interest in your problem
This is related to the previous tip, but we would like to point out that it goes a step further. Finding a consultant (whether they are an organizational, financial, or marketing consultant) who specializes in just your problem or the area in which you want the company to make headway is an added bonus in your search.
You could say that in addition to this interest, the right sort of consultant should also be very passionate about the area of their expertise, should wish to help, and also strive to make good in their line of work. And, of course, they should have a realistic picture of your company (because without one they would lack the basic tools to do their job).
3. A nuanced understanding of the company
Another important characteristic of a consultant is being able to quickly develop a nuanced understanding of your company. Naturally, this goes hand in hand with experience, but there are also other characteristics that matter.
The ability to focus on details, systems-oriented thinking, analytic skills, and understanding complex systems can be of great help.
For most consultants, great skills in problem-solving, decision-making, time management, project management, as well as critical thinking (especially in the era of fake news and post-truth) are implied.
4. It really helps – in the long run!
The next tip will certainly ring clear and intuitive: you should view each contact with the company consultant as help (although it may seem different in the beginning). The company benefit is measurable and should be outlined right at the start. It should also be visible after some time has passed since the completion of the consulting project.
5. What sort of work do you expect?
There are different models of consulting services for different needs. For instance, some companies need to go to a consultant for specific expertise on how to improve their business, e.g. cut costs, reclassify jobs, etc. This consulting model is often referred to as expert consulting (which does not imply that other models are not expertise-based – they certainly are, but in a different sense!).
The second model is concerned with diagnostics and providing advice based on it.
In the third consulting model, the company has all the resources to make an improvement as well as to choose a solution. In this case, the consultant is an instrument that makes sure these solutions are indeed implemented and should therefore remain on the sidelines of the company that they provide consulting services for (this consulting position and model of consulting will be discussed in more detail). As the great psychologist and emeritus professor at MIT Sloan School of Management Edgar H. Schein says in the introduction to the book Dialogic Organization Development*, the role of the consultant is to help the company learn on its own how to get a solution. This consulting model is referred to as process consulting.
It is therefore important to be clear before hiring a consultant on whether you need expert, diagnostic, or process consulting, and to have a chat about that before drawing up a contract.
6. A farewell to the ego!
Following on from the previous point, it is important for a consultant to leave their ego behind. This is especially relevant for the consultants who engage in process consulting rather than expert or diagnostic consulting (including team coaching and all other forms of this type of company help). Not only would they ensure that that the consulting work is on the right track, but also facilitate feedback where it should be provided.
7. Certificates – mandatory or not?
Depending on the type of business consulting that you need, you should know if there are certificates and licences in the consultant’s area of expertise in the first place. For instance, in Serbia a consultant in the area of architecture is required by the state to hold a licence, but licences have not yet been introduced in other areas in which consulting services are offered. Further, individual business consulting (as well as coaching) is a fairly new line of work in Serbia. Although specific institutional certificates do in fact exist, this has not yet been regulated or normativized at state level, which will be necessary in order for coaching to become stable as a profession. Until then, for the consultants without a licence, pay special attention to their membership in international organizations in their area of professional expertise. It is desirable for, say, an organizational systems-psychodynamic consultant to be a member of the ISPSO (The International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations).
Certificates are usually listed on the consulting company’s website or an individual’s consultant’s web page, as well as in their promotional materials, which should also be checked and reviewed.
When certificates do not provide enough information, you should rely on experience. The research conducted by the world-renowned Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson (Florida State University) in the area of business expertise has revealed that practice with a strong focus on an area outside of your ‘comfort zone’ can contribute to exceptional results. You may be familiar with this idea through the book Outliers: The Story of Success** by the journalist Malcolm Gladwell, in which the author provides examples demonstrating that 10,000 work hours are needed in order to gain professional expertise in an area in a short period of time (amounting to about 5 years’ worth of work). Although it is perhaps a tad simplistic view, you get the point!
8. The possibility of having an open conversation
When you speak to consultants, most of them will be saying that they are engaged in finding the ‘solution’. What they will not mention is that solutions are sought for company problems. Perhaps you as a CEO may find it pleasing when a consultant does not acknowledge that your company is facing ‘problems’ and focuses instead on terms such as ‘challenges’. There is no question that emphasizing the positives (i.e. solutions) is a good trait for a consultant, but what can increase the value of their work (sometimes considerably) is the possibility of an open, honest conversation and laying all the cards on the table.
You do not have to overburden the consultant with the tiniest details of, say, your business strategy, but if you are considering not sharing specific information, ask yourself first whether this will help the consultant in reaching a more informed and thus a better decision.
9. Finding the right words to state company strengths and weaknesses
When you are signing a contract with a consultant, it is useful to check if their feedback is suitable, i.e. sufficiently open and honest, not concealing facts or sugar-coating them, as well as respecting you as a client. This is one of the things you are entitled to and which will allow you to use the consultant’s feedback (whether it is oral or in the form of a report) in an optimal way.
10. Recommendations – yes or no?
Depending on the type of consulting services and the level at which they are offered, the consultant can be asked to provide references in their area of expertise. Most consultants (but not all!) list their clients on their website, which gives you an idea about the companies that they have worked with, and you can request additional information or contact a client yourself.
However, there are consultants in specific areas (e.g. organizational consultants using the systems-psychodynamic approach to systems) whose work with clients is considered confidential and is not discussed (which the contract with the company stipulates), unless the client provides express permission. Bear this mind as well. Even if you are allowed to contact the companies the consultant has previously worked with, their CEO’s might not give you direct access to the specifics of the company work in question.
If recommendations are not available, we recommend that you rely on education, which brings us back to the first important point.
We hope that this list will come in handy as a reminder. If you have suggestions on what to add to it, we would love to hear from you in the comments section.
We wish you lots of luck in your search for the right business consultant!
* Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change; edited by Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak; published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015.
** Outliers: The Story of Success; published by: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.
The author of the text:
Systems-Psychodynamic Organizational Consultant & Analytic-Network™ Coach