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Are You a Good Consultant Or a Bad Consultant?

Eddie_haskellIn my profession as a consultant, I've found that the mere term conjures up some very powerful images.  There's the do-nothing-cut-and-run consultant who promised one thing but couldn't (or wouldn't) deliver.  There's the parasite consultant who burrows in and makes himself (or herself) into a can't-live-without-commodity.  There's the Eddie Haskell consultant who ingratiates himself to the higher-ups but treats the rest of the staff with disdain.

Then there is the consultant who adds value, makes himself obsolete and gets the heck out of the way so the organization can accomplish what it must.

Dorothy_glindaI've always liked the line from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy first arrives in Munchkinland and Glinda's first question to her is, "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"  Even Munchkins are curious about new outsiders.

All consultants have to bear the weight of the reputation of our profession.  I've also been in the hiring position of consultants, and here are some of the things I look for:

  • What have been the length of the contracts at prior companies?  If the length don't match the types of projects, it sends up a red flag.  If a consultant jumps from client to client after a few weeks, they may be damaged goods.  If they have overstayed their welcome and lasted for years at a given client, I know that getting rid of them may require an exterminator.
  • What is the consultants frame of reference when talking?  Do they ask more questions about you and your needs as a potential client?  Or do they talk about themselves and their capabilities and how great they are.
  • What are their accomplishments vs. their contributions?  It's subtle, but did the consultant play a lead role at getting things done or were they a contributor who held a much smaller piece of the puzzle.
  • Are they good story-tellers?  Being able to provide tangible examples from their past about handling past client challenges is a big plus for me.  If they are talking in generalities, I get nervous about what they can provide.  Their ability to tell stories also tells me if they can be a good presenter in front of an audience.
  • While it's not fair to judge a consultant based on a salesperson, I do look at the sales staff.  What appears to be the relationship between the consultant and the salesperson?  Are they partners or do they appear to be adversarial?  Body language and word choice are two good indicators here.  Also, is the salesperson looking to make a buck to fund his or her next sports car, or are they really looking to build a long-term relationship with you as a client?

Just like witches, not all consultants are wicked.  In this soft economy of selecting the best person who can provide you the most value for your consulting dollar, it's important to get what you pay for.

What are your consultant-hiring best practices?

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