Even The Best Consultant Will Fail Without A Proper Introduction.
By Steve Schumacher
Several years ago, I was hired by a vice president to help him with his meetings. He felt like his agendas were too scattered, participants got off track too easily and action items were not done well enough. He told me when his next meeting was scheduled and I made plans to attend.
My strategy was to time each agenda item, make notes on participation, evaluate action items and monitor how well everyone stayed on topic. When the meeting was over, the vice president and I got together and I gave him my perceptions and feedback on ways to improve.
Unfortunately, the uproar from the meeting participants about my involvement that one day caught the vice president and me totally off guard. Neither one of us thought about taking the time for me to build trust with all the participants prior to sitting in on the meeting. As a result of our oversight, the vice president almost had a mutiny on his hands.
What I learned from that situation is that consultants and leaders must work together to set the consultant up for success before they do the work they are being paid for. Since that time, all of my consulting engagements start with an initial focus on building trust with the people in the company that I will be working with. As a leader within the company who is bringing on a consultant, there are some things for you to consider in order to get the maximum benefit of the money you are spending on an outsider.
Make sure the consultant understands the importance of building trust. Talk to your consultant and pose questions about their perceptions how they perceive trust in client/consultant relationships. If the consultant does not see the value in building trust with all project stakeholders up front, you will have to educate them as to why it is important for the success of the project. The consultant’s credibility, another key factor in project success, will come with the work that is being done. Trust takes time and concentrated, strategic effort.
Set up relationship-building meetings. As a leader, it is up to you to orchestrate kick-off meetings with the consultant and stakeholders with the objective of building trust. Give the stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions of the consultant in order to start the trust-building process. A veteran consultant will welcome this opportunity to respond to questions and concerns in advance of the project starting.
Walk around your operation with the consultant. One of the tools of consultants is called Expert Power. This is derived by the consultant being a storehouse of knowledge that your organization does not have in-house. That is why you have contracted with the consultant in the first place. By walking around with the consultant, introducing the consultant to your team members, you provide the consultant with another kind of power – Referent Power. When the project starts, people will be more likely to respond well to the consultant because they know that your power is behind them.
Meet with team members alone right away. Once you have selected the consultant, and prior to them arriving, meet with your team members to let them know what is going to happen. This is the time for you to address any concerns and questions your team members may have. It is also an opportunity for your team members to see that you are willing to hear them out in advance of the project. Modeling that behavior will go a long ways for you as a leader.
Set up review teams. Put together at least one team, made up of your employees, that will review progress of the project with the consultant. By including employees in the review and monitoring process, and including the consultant on the team, you will take more steps to building trust between the consultant and stakeholders.
Check your gut feeling. Trust and credibility are the two key tools for all consultants. Credibility comes from knowledge and experience. Trust comes from spending time with people and building positive relationships. The consultant needs to build trust will all stakeholders, including you.
Consultants cost a lot of money. In order for you and your company to get the maximum benefit from that investment of money, time, and energy invest time up-front to clear a path for the consultant and your team to be successful.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].