All Consultants Are Not Created Equal

Every year, thousands of corporations and organizations enlist the services of either an individual consultant, team of consultants, or a consulting firm, to address items that their leadership envisions need addressing professionally, by an impartial eye. Unfortunately, however, nearly anyone can represent himself as some sort of consultant, either in a specific area, or in a variety of areas, and while some of these individuals are excellent, and provide a fabulous, valuable service, others use consulting as a rouse to sell some sort of product or service. Major areas that consultants are called in regarding include, but are not limited to: business, financial, fiscal, and budgetary items; strategic planning; event planning, negotiations, coordination and organization; Board training and evaluation; business planning; etc.

1. Your preliminary discussion with any honorable consultant should be a getting- to- know- you type of meeting, and should be free of charge to the organization. Observe whether the consultant listens and asks pensive and examining questions, more than he speaks and tries to sell himself. Do not be overly impressed by fancy brochures and literature, or even elaborate presentations. You should be looking for a consultant that does not try to use a one- size- fits- all approach, but customizes his service directly to your needs and your organization’s idiosyncrasies. Don’t be overly impressed by fancy rhetoric or techno- jargon, because it often has little true value.

2. When a consultant is used for event services, he should guarantee his services will do several things for your event. Firstly, he should take away the hassles and headaches. Secondly, he should be able to negotiate in all related areas and foresee your needs. He should be someone who does his homework before he begins to negotiate, in order to find out what is needed and what the priorities and objectives of the event are. He should gather historical information, in order to gather am historical perspective and better understand the group’s heritage and needs. He should never impose his will, but also stand up for what he believes should be done, and be able and willing to explain why. His negotiations should save considerably more money than the total of his fee and reimbursable expenses. He should fully explain his fee up front, and explain what he will do, how he will work intimately with the group’s organizing committee, and make relevant suggestions.

3. Beware of any consultant who makes too big a deal about making governance changes, in order to address systemic problems and challenges facing the organization. While in a mostly healthy organization, certain governance models might work better for a specific group, governance should only become a priority during a healthy or relatively healthy stage, and not when there are other challenges. These governance recommendations are usually followed, in gradations and steps to follow, by meetings that you are charged for consultant’s time, training sessions (also at a charge), and often with a beautifully prepared governance manual, that often is less valuable to the stability and well being of the organization than the paper it is printed on, etc.

Always ask a prospective consultant about his fees, thoughts, methods, approaches, and what he feels he might be able to do for you, before you agree to his contract. Many organizations have cost themselves dearly by not carefully considering all of the ramifications. While many consultants are great and provide a wonderful service, like in everything else, there are always some “bad apples.”