For CEOs and other business leaders who determine it may be necessary or valuable to bring in external consulting expertise to their organization, it’s important to consider the following characteristics to identify the right individual and approach to accomplish a successful engagement. And for consultants providing their counsel and skills, it’s equally important to objectively assess themselves in the same way. Below, we examine a number of the core qualities that consultants should exhibit to build positive relationships and desired outcomes.
- Share Fresh Perspectives and Challenge Convention.
Consultants are generally brought in when problems arise, changes are needed, or key expertise gaps present themselves in a business. One of the best things a consultant has to offer is an honest, objective view of what they see, free from the bias and blindness that can creep in when one has long been part of the all-day every day running of that business. Consultants must be willing to advocate for different approaches, even when these approaches may not match the initial instincts of those they’re advising and when met with responses of “we’ve tried that before.” Effective consultants don’t fall into the trap of telling leaders only what they want to hear. Across finance, HR, and recruiting, there are often multiple paths that can lead to the same destination, but each can have different collective pluses and minuses that can make one the better path to take in that instance.
- Be a Quick and Confident Assimilator.
Being brought in as a knowledge leader or expert in a particular area should not be construed as having complete autonomy and authority. Consultants must remember that they are, in part, there to help a team that’s been working hard for some time and that everyone’s contributions and buy-in will be needed to move things forward in the right direction. It’s common and understandable for some internal resistance and defensiveness to surface early in consulting relationships, but great consultants overcome this by conveying empathy, understanding, and showing that they’re genuinely there to help. They display a combination of confidence and emotional intelligence; knowing when to push individuals and processes past their point of comfort and when to dial back.
- Ensure a Shared Vision of End Goals.
Some engagements may naturally go on for a long time. Still, consultants need to have a shared vision with those they are engaged with as to what success will look like whenever their currently scoped work with one another is complete. Adopting this “big project” mentality can be challenging, but it’s highly important to do so, nonetheless. If this view cannot be fully formed at the beginning of an engagement when all the variables and depth of issues may not be fully known, acknowledge that and revisit that conversation regularly until an answer can be formed.
- Be a constant, clear, and unambiguous communicator.
Often, internal employees can quietly complete their day-to-day activities and mostly fly below the radar in a manner that is beneficial for the business. Their job tasks are clearly defined, and they get them done without fail. Consultants, meanwhile, need to be highly active and deliberate communicators so that the leaders and teams they are working with know exactly what’s being focused on, what that focus aims to accomplish, and what they should expect next. Create regular, well-defined communication structures that promote clarity, accountability, and progress.
Another aspect of effective consultant communication is the ability to shape communications to the needs and roles of the different audiences with the organization. This means comfort in shaping and shifting from high-level strategic conversations with the CEO or President of the organization in the boardroom to talking about detailed plans and tactical elements with other team members. Consider the sea birds that fly high above the water and surveys for dangers and opportunities. They know when it’s time to stay in place and when it’s time to quickly dive and feast on a fish.
- Balance Specialized Expertise and Big Picture Perspective.
Consultants should possess proven, practical expertise in overcoming the challenges that they are bought in to solve. For finance, that could mean CFOs who have successfully helped companies expand internationally, implement new finance and accounting systems, or adopt strong strategic planning best practices. Their expertise and perspectives should squarely fit the needs and be additive to the organization’s capabilities, providing skills and knowledge the business doesn’t already have and positioning them as a go-to resource for these areas. At the same time, consultants must also expect and be ready for ancillary issues that arise in the course of working through these issues. In other words, consultants need to know when to wear a jack-of-all-trades hat within their discipline in service of deepening buy-in and removing individual roadblocks that get in the way of accomplishing a bigger goal.
Consulting Relationships that Work
For business leaders and consultants alike, consultant relationships should be entered into with much the same rigor and thoughtfulness undertaken when selecting a new internal employee or when one is determining whether they should join an organization. Whether evaluating an existing consultant relationship or weighing the idea of bringing on new consulting expertise to help your business, consider these characteristics before you act to be confident that you are making the right choice for your business needs and objectives.
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You may find these related blog posts helpful and informative:
- Engaging an Outsourced CFO – Ten Things to Consider
- Four Key Functions a CFO Adds to the Executive Team