How to Select the Best Management Consultant

Robert B. Wagenaar,

How to Select the Best Management ConsultantHow does a client decide which management consultant fits best with his or her needs? Well, it isn’t easy. Certainly, there is no public register that can rate the quality of our work, or what distinguishes us from our colleagues, or even how much we cost. It is the current nature of our profession: young, untamed and far from standardized.

Some even doubt if it is a profession at all. Those would be the same people who would apply this phrase – professionals in similar situations would choose a similar best solution – as the test.

When will our profession become a more defined “craft”? It remains to be seen. Let’s keep in mind, however, that management consultants have only been around for 60 years. It took doctors, lawyers and accountants much longer to become recognized as full-fledged professionals. Our national associations will play a crucial role in taking us further in this direction. ICMCI, the worldwide council of associations, will also be instrumental in leading this effort.

Different From The Others

Some of the barriers which prevent the standardization of management consultancy are intrinsic to the profession itself.

For example, consultants are often called in after the client wasn’t able to find a solution on their own. While these are the cases where a consultant – with a creative and holistic approach – can really make a difference for a client, it is also these kinds of cases where a clear solution does not easily present itself. More frustrating even, is that the question itself may not clearly present itself.

For a doctor, it is easy to define the problem and the solution – the leg is broken and needs to be fixed. The same holds true for lawyers – the couple wants a divorce, and an agreement needs to be reached. Things are less clear-cut for us. A client tells you that employees have a very low morale and that absence rates are intolerably high. So how do define the real problem? What is the connection between a problematic situation (low morale) and a successful solution? For the doctor, the reason for the broken leg is of no interest, he just has to fix it. The consultant though has to dig deep to uncover the reasons for bad morale and high absence. Only then, may he find a way to improve the situation. And he may find reasons and ways of solving them, which can be outside of his competences too.

More Than A “Good” Expert

So the nature of our profession sometimes leads us outside known methods and proven tools. That means we have to master other fields in order to do our profession well. Putting aside the technical/methodological parts of our profession, that need to be part of our daily tasks, we also need to understand ethical behavior, we need to be master of interpersonal skills, we need to have developed clear and transparent (but simple) procedures to engage, and we need to understand the workings of structural evaluation. The only worldwide standard for our profession – Certified Management Consultant (CMC) – requires that holders of this title have these qualities. This designation separates us from the self-anointed “want to be, why not” consultants, who are around everywhere.

Seven Guidelines

Given the murky waters of management consultancy, I have developed my own guidelines to help clients with their selection criteria. It is collected from my own experience and the experiences of colleagues from around the globe.

7 Guidelines to Select the Best Management Consultant:

    1. Role Model for the Envisioned Result

    Your consultant should be the right fit for your company. He or she should radiate the values, goals and culture that you want your organization to embody. If you sense that his morals, or perhaps her values are not the same as your organization’s, you will not be happy with where he or she wants to take you.

    2. Messenger of Innovation

    Demand innovation from your consultant. “Learning” is the name of the game when it comes to organizational survival. Expect your consultant – an outsider with insights into the workings of many other organizations – to bring fresh, new ways of doing things.

    3. Abundant Energy

    An optimistic and energetic, CAN-DO mentality is indispensable in a consultant. He or she should unleash new forces of energy in dealing with a problem area.

    4. Genuine Interest

    A good consultant will be sincerely curious to get to the root of the problem in your organization. He will be open-minded and actively listen to you without prejudices. If he has a formulaic response to your problem or he treats it as “just another job” then don’t use him.

    5. A True Professional

    Your consultant should know how to be professional. She will be above reproach ethically. She will ensure that she understands your expectations, she will describe the scope of her work and remuneration. She will not do work that you have not previously agreed to. She will also develop a schedule that clearly sets out when you can expect her to report her progress to you and obtain your feedback to ensure you are satisfied with the progress. She will understand that you are dependent on her for results, and you can expect her to be proactive if the project appears to be less successful than anticipated, by coming to you with her observations and discussing with you how to handle the situation.

    6. An Expert in the Field You Need

    Ensure that the consultant has the competence to judge whether he has the expertise for this particular project. It is very challenging for any consultant to admit he may not be a good fit for the job. As a result, there can be a temptation to define a problem in terms of the ability of the consultant to come up with a solution. The consultant must be able to take a high-level overview of all the competencies for this project and ensure that he has the expertise you need for this job!

    7. A Coach For You

    The consultant should be willing to transfer what she has learned about your organization to you. You do not want a consultant who wants you permanently dependent on her. Should a similar situation arise in the future, you will need to know how to handle it. A good consultant will coach you on how to learn from the project.

In Conclusion

A CMC qualification is a very good sign that a consultant is serious in approaching consultancy as a profession. I believe that consultants should have a T-shaped profile. The top bar of the T represents the broad, generalist expertise that a management consultant needs to have as a professional. The consultant should then have one or more in-depth areas of expertise, such as IT, process management, HRM, strategy and so on that match with the specific needs you have for the project.

As a client, you should expect to put some effort in selecting the right consultant for your organization. Ask questions, probe further if you don’t understand the answer. If you get a bad vibe, pay attention to it. Invest time and don’t feel hurried by anyone. Choosing the consultant that is right for your organization could be one of the most important decisions of your career.

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Robert B. Wagenaar

Rob B. Wagenaar works as a management consultant, trainer and lecturer. He specializes on the functioning of top management and top teams, coaching, organizational culture and high performance. In addition, he provides support to the consulting profession and lectures about it. You can visit his website to learn more at: www.asiconsultinggroup.com.
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