How to get the best out of consultancy

Consulting assignments lie at the heart of THINK’s very existence. And although we have a diversified range of services and products, consultancy remains the foundation of what we do.  

During the twenty or so years I worked in-house for several charities, I used consultants for a range of projects. More often than not, I find that an experienced consultant, with their richness of knowledge and diversity of perspective, provides an external and impartial view that is more easily accepted in organizations than even the best internal voice. I saw how a well-executed consultancy project can really help to accelerate delivery by providing challenge, inspiration and direction.

I’m sometimes asked what the critical ingredients are for the most productive client-consultant relationships and I think it’s pretty simple really:

  • A well-articulated and clear brief
    If a client is clear on what the objectives are for the project, what the key issues are that need to be addressed and what the outputs need to be, then the consultant can respond and design the project appropriately. When there is ambiguity or a lack of clarity, it’s the consultant’s job to really probe the client’s thinking, to get to the nub of the issue and draft and redraft the brief until both parties are confident that a great result can be delivered.
  • Honest communication
    This one runs all the way through a project – from pitch to completion. In the same way that clear communication makes an internal team run smoothly, so it will oil the wheels of a strong client-consultant relationship. During a project, there may be periods where engagement is difficult due to competing priorities, timelines may become challenging as a result of unforeseen circumstances, and changes to original plans can make for a better outcome. But all of this requires communication and it’s so important for clients and consultants to build in time to talk at regular intervals.
  • An equal partnership
    If you’ve worked with us, you’ll know that THINK’s style is to be a true partner in a project and to become an extension of our client’s team; a critical friend. We know you are making an investment in having us on board, and an equal partnership ensures the best chance of success.
  • Realistic timescales
    We are all busy, constantly juggling deadlines and priorities. So, clients and consultants should be realistic about the timescales needed for considering proposals, making decisions - especially if they involve others – and when the final report really needs to be delivered.
  • Briefing teams
    It’s important for the client and consultant to work together to develop a briefing plan, so all teams involved understand why a consultant has been commissioned, what the process will be and when they will get to hear the outcome. Poor briefing can cause distrust and concern of a hidden agenda, which may exacerbate some of the issues the project is seeking to address.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected
    Projects don’t always go to plan, so flexibility, a solution-driven approach and openness to challenge all serve well to deliver the very best outcomes. Clients commission consultants to give an impartial and expert view, and this may or may not be aligned with the client’s own direction of thought. Consultants have to make recommendations which they believe are the best for the client organization’s situation and changing those retrospectively would undermine professional integrity. It’s the consultant’s role to give an honest appraisal and the client’s role to decide what to take on board and implement.

Here at THINK, we love the consulting projects we do, and derive enormous satisfaction from seeing our clients thrive and grow as a result of the support we give. So next time you have a knotty problem, give us a shout and let’s see how we can help you.

Michelle Chambers is THINK Canada's Director, and Managing Director of THINK Consulting Solutions. 
You can meet her here.