What’s the best way to reap the benefits of consultants?
James Fulton, chief learning officer and global head of talent at Goldman Sachs, believes the reason companies often fail to fully benefit from the retention of consultants is because they “oversimplify the issues at hand or underestimate what it takes to create results” while treating consultants “as transactional vendors.”
In a column for Harvard Business Review, Mr. Fulton, a former external consultant, cited three strategies to benefit from consultants:
- Situational assessment: Companies are advised to fully assess their problems and the type of help required. “A lack of time, curiosity or even skill to adequately understand the problem at hand” often cause executives to oversimplify problems. Companies also often rely on a small number of advisors whose strengths are not always relevant to the problems.
- A humble mindset: Leaders can feel vulnerable when asking for help. Mr. Fulton writes, “Using help requires a willingness to be helped. That’s hard to achieve if you’re not open to learning.”
- Interpersonal skills: Collaborations between executives and the consultant team are required to drive outcomes together. Mr. Fulton writes, “Using the help of others is a key leadership skill since no leader, especially in demanding and volatile times, can do it alone.”
Articles and blogs around the hiring of consultants cite the benefits of expertise and unbiased opinions. The downsides can include their often high expense, their availability, given that they work with multiple clients, and a lack of guarantees.
In a 2017 Financial Times article, columnist John Gapper wrote that the rise of digital technology and data analytics has led to a surge in the use of consultants as companies reimagine themselves.
He warned, however, that an over-reliance on consultants or contractors can lead to “off-the-shelf solutions” and copycat approaches. “The curse of the consultants is that anyone can hire them, so their ideas soon spread,” he wrote.
Short-term consultant hires can also extend to longer term as the contractors promise incremental benefits. “Consultants are alluring in a world of changing technology and regulation, as their growth shows. But it is also wise for the buyer to beware of what they offer,” according to Mr. Gapper.
- So You Hired a Consultant. Here’s How to Get Your Money’s Worth – Harvard Business Review
- The curse of the consultants is spreading fast – Financial Times
- How Hiring a Consultant Can Help Founders in Business – Entrepreneur
- How to Tell If Hiring a Consultant Will Be Worth the Investment – Harvard Business Review
- What Is a Business Consultant? – Business News Daily
- 5 Things to Look for When Hiring a Consulting Firm – Entrepreneur
- One in Four Small Businesses Plan to Hire a Financial Consultant in 2021, According to New Survey Data – Clutch/PRNewswire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for retailers and brands to ensure their investments in consultants pay off? What mistakes do consultants often make that undermine a successful engagement?