The old joke about consultants is they take your watch and then charge to tell you the time.  Harsh, but is it true?

I began working with consultants in my first management role as Program/Content Director at a local radio station in regional Australia.

As an aspiring new manager I knew I needed to grow in my knowledge as fast as possible to grow into my role and win new audiences.  Thankfully our big city parent company used research and programming consultants so we had access to use their services too.

At that point it was clear to me I needed to listen and follow their recommendations. After a time and a modicum of success I grew in experience and confidence. I began to ask why and would debate options.  The relationship between student and teacher evolved.

On the other end of the scale, as a Director of Content for large media companies, I have contracted and worked with consultants in many situations; strategic market planning, brand positioning, talent coaching, sales strategy etc.

Whatever the situation, the best consultants have the ability to ‘fit’ culturally into your orgaisation – just like the fit you are looking for when recruiting a key executive.

Most consultants are found via referrals from trusted colleagues or industry contacts. If you can see how they have successfully advised another company you may be confident how they can do the same for you. However as the legalese on financial products says; past performance is no guarantee on future performance.

Key to a successful client consultant relationship is being clear about the future.

To build an effective working relationship fast, create a Working Agreement.  Here is an example of how to start the process:

  • What are the goals and objectives?
  • What are the time scales
  • Is this a retainer based relationship or daily rates or a one off project?
  • How we will work together to active it?
    • What are the roles and responsibilities of the consultant?
    • What is the roles and responsibilities client staff?
    • What are the communication channels?
    • What are the instances where we feedback performance against objectives?
    • When are the review points for the working agreement

Any successful relationship requires commitment on both sides and it’s no different when contracting your consultant.

Great consultants don’t take your watch and tell you the time. They will use the time as data, they offer insight on how the time might impact on your consumers and how your organization might respond to take advantage of consumers change.