How to Use Consultants Effectively – A View From the Other Side

I know that everyone out there sees these articles written by consultants and says to him or herself,

Guest Posting

 “That’s nice – but how does that apply to me?”

All organizations reach a point at some time when they are aware that they could be doing things better or differently. One or several areas of the operation are not achieving their goal or are not functioning as efficiently as they might. The Corporate Office, General Manager and the Department head may aware of the problem but unable to offer or formulate an effective remedy. This is where the timely employment of a consultant can reap measurable returns.

The issue or problem may be short-term. For example, a property or a group of properties may be undergoing a franchise change. To effectively manage the change and maximize the opportunity will require an intense effort, analysis and focus that will stress the existing organization’s resources and potentially jeopardize the well being of the rest of the operation. This is a situation where a consultant can assist in managing the change until the conversion is complete and the newly franchised properties have stabilized.

Another example is when a position is stubbornly vacant and the right candidate has yet to materialize or the position is such that it can be effectively filled on a part-time basis. To leave the position vacant is hurting the operation but to make a hasty decision has long-term consequences. This is an illustration of how a temporary arrangement with a consultant can keep the operation moving smoothly until a position can be permanently filled.

In other situations, the issue may be more long term and the effective use of a consultant on an ongoing basis may be a cost effective solution to the problem. For example, a smaller organization may not have the resources of a larger company in oversight or training. The example comes to mind of a small company in which several hotels are seeing market share and REVPAR index slide and need assistance to turn the situation around and provide ongoing support. Where there is no corporate regional Director of Sales or for those regional DOSs whose time is already spread thin, a good consultant can fill that requirement on an ongoing but part-time basis at a rate of remuneration far less than the addition of a permanent, full time staff member.

The list of potentially problem areas is relatively endless and includes any number of operational, technical and customer service areas. A consultant allows you to hire a level of expertise that you might otherwise not be able to afford.

But lest you think that this is self-serving — allow me to provide the view from the other side; what makes a ‘consultant-client’ relationship work for the benefit of both. A good consultant-client relationship is a professional marriage. A consultant wants to provide value to the client but recognizes that it requires a bit of work on both sides. Let me share with you how to maximize a consulting relationship:

The Chemistry Thing. Once you have identified one or more consultants who may be qualified to assist you in your problem area, have a telephone conversation with each. As is any relationship, chemistry is an issue. You know if this person has a style that will compliment and mesh with yours and that of the people in your organization. Not every client and consultant has the chemistry required to get the job done, no matter how qualified the consultant. Ask for references and examples of how they successfully assisted other clients in similar situations.

Analyse the issue. Most consultants are willing to do this for expenses or a minimal fee. A good consultant is set of ‘fresh eyes’ — someone who can give you an objective opinion of the elements of the situation and recommendations for a resolution. However, resist the urge to ‘shoot the messenger’ if their analysis does not exactly agree with your perception. Some clients simply want an echo of the conclusion they have already drawn to validate their own opinion. This is fine as long as you are willing to pay for it.

Define the Objectives. What are the goals and the benchmarks? All too often a client is ambivalent about what the objectives are in terms of observable outcomes. I suggested to a client that a market share penetration was an imminently achievable goal and he indicated that he thought that was not achievable. I told him he was right, it wasn’t achievable as long as he thought it wasn’t. This client property is now consistently running well over that. Another goal may be to increase mid-week occupancy. Set the average number of rooms per weeknight and develop a system of measurement. The benchmarks are what percentage increase and incremental number of rooms in three months, six months, and a year.

Define the Parameters of the Consultation. Define the fee structure, billable expenses and the duration of the consultation with renewal options, if applicable. Discuss the reporting arrangement and agree upon when the bill is to be paid. In many cases, the consultant is a small business operator and invoices left unpaid for over thirty days puts him or her in a bind and gets your account poorly served.

Commit to Implementation of the Recommendations. The single most frustrating thing to a consultant is a client with whom the chemistry is right, the terms of contract are clear but the client does not implement or support the agreed upon action plans and recommendations. The consultant has no authority to enforce the performance of the action plans except the authority and express support that you give them. In those situations where everyone loves the recommendations and action plans but there is no support for their implementation, the consultant invariably gets the blame for poor results. It’s your money — use it wisely.

Agree to Disagree on Occasion. A good consultant is there to stimulate you and provide another opinion. Commit to having discussions. If everything you were doing in the past was so good, how did you get into this situation in the first place? If you keep on doing what you are doing you will keep on getting what you’ve gotten. A disagreement on an issue doesn’t mean that you are wrong. Back your ego out of it and be willing to listen to a dissenting opinion. At least agree to think about it.

Commit to the Agenda. A good consultant will furnish you with an itinerary prior to the visit and it is up to you to ensure that the staff involved has cleared their calendars to give the consultant their focus and attention. A consultant’s time is very expensive to waste. A staff member who is feeling threatened or defensive will often avoid spending the required time with the consultant. While a good consultant will try to put their fears to rest (unless they are the problem), it is up to you to make it clear to the staff that the consultant is there to identify and support solutions, not to threaten or find fault. However, as the saying goes, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. As in any good relationship, success depends upon the level of communication between the parties involved. Make sure that the staff provides the reports the consultant requests. A good consultant will begin their itinerary with a meeting with the key contact(s) and conclude with the same. Read and share with the staff the report that the consultant furnishes after each visit and discuss on the phone.

A good consultant is not someone who is ‘between jobs’ or unemployable. Most have held positions of responsibility and produced results for their employers. That is how they developed their expertise. They are doing what they do for various reasons and not looking for a job. A good consultant has usually been offered numerous jobs by clients but prefers to do consulting for the challenge, variety and flexibility that it affords. Steuerberater

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