When you face major problems or new projects within your business, there are a number of options from which you can choose once you have committed to taking action toward resolution.
As a leader, you strive to lead teams that are self-sufficient, and your first instinct may be to resolve the problems on your own. But there is only so much time in the day, and even if the problem is within your realm of expertise, there comes a point where you will need some additional help.
A common response then may be to try and grow expertise to tackle the project among in-house resources. If that isn't an immediate option, you might look to hire a full-time resource or contractor with a specific skill set to try and fill the void.
These avenues can be expensive and time-consuming options, leaving you to continue to suffer with the problem or issue while also expending resources to hire, onboard, and train that resource.
If your organization has a problem too large and complex to solve on your own, or if the problem requires a specialty skill that you don’t immediately possess within your organization, a consultant may be your most efficient and cost-effective option.
Here are a few reasons why:
When hiring a consultant or service provider, you have the opportunity to hire someone with specialized skill in the area that you need it. While the world is full of smart and capable people, there are few resources who can work as efficiently and effectively as those who specialize in offering a specific function or service. Yes, Sally from Accounting is fantastic in dealing with general budgetary reports, but is she adequately equipped to produce a world-class financial prospectus and presentation to attract that private equity firm for the next round of funding?
By seeking a consulting specialist, you are choosing to invest your resources in a focused manner with the expectation of a specific outcome or series of results. You have the opportunity to purchase the time and talents of someone who has already invested in the education, certification, projects, trial-and- error, bumps, and bruises that it takes to gain specific expertise without making the financial investment to get them to that point or beyond a significant learning curve.
Experience counts. Would you trust your own major medical procedure to the surgeon who has done it a hundred times, or to the medical student who is learning it for the first time? Hiring a consultant who has the actual working experience provides credibility and confidence. Knowing this expert has previously encountered these problems or issues and is capable of addressing the job at hand helps to establish trust at the onset of the relationship.
That same confidence is rarely present in a situation where you are looking to grow in-house talent or when taking the DIY approach for the first time. You may have great faith in the person(s) selected to take on the new duties, but how certain can you be that their success in other areas will immediately and directly translate to this new role?
Hiring someone from outside your immediate organization can help to ensure you receive the dedicated focus that you need. Not only can you contractually lay out the parameters of the working arrangement, but you can be sure that your time and money are being invested and tracked against the problem or project that you are looking to address.
Contrast that with the internal resource you have pegged to "multitask" and take on the project. If they have the skills to do the job, there may still be many other routine responsibilities that take their focus: firefighting, personnel issues, vacations, internal politics, and overlapping projects can all impact their ability to see a special project to completion. A consultant can help you to avoid many of these distractions and focus on completing the project they are hired for. Good consultants will work to avoid these distractions and keep extraneous billable hours contained in order to deliver the expected results (and in doing so, promote a stronger business relationship).
Freeing up internal resources—or even your own time—can sometimes be the most difficult challenge to overcome. You know you need to address a specific project or issue, but it always seems to fall lower in priority than the daily problems that rise to the surface. Before you know it, weeks or months have passed, and you still haven’t seen the progress you desire.
Whether it is a day, a week, or a month worth of work, you can often engage an external consultant in short order and obtain rapid attention to the problem you need solved. It begins with a conversation, but can quickly move to a contractual engagement to obtain the boots on the ground that you need to tackle the issue at hand. If time is money, the ability to act quickly can save you both.
A contractual arrangement with a consultant can help you to make certain that you get what you pay for. Most reputable consultants and firms will only engage with a client under a clear contract of services and deliverables, and some service providers will even provide a guarantee of their services or against specific acceptance criteria.
If you don’t see the results that you would expect, if the resource simply isn't a fit with your teams, or if there are other terms of the agreement that aren't being met, you have the opportunity to take immediate action and correct your course and ensure you obtain maximum return on your investment. A good consultant will work with you to ensure that you are happy with the end results. After all, they want your referral as a satisfied customer to help attract future business.
—Justin Webb is the founder and managing partner at X1 Consulting, a technology and management consulting firm based in Virginia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Image: Flickr user Seth Thomas Rasmussen]