Make sure you get the right advice

Decoding the Consultant Conundrum

Joan Wilson-Jones

There are many things to consider when engaging an external consultant to work with your team.

Back in my days as a manager, my roles included inviting tender responses, assessing tenders and appointing consultants to meet specific requirements. In recent months, I was invited to fill a full-time temporary contract as a Learning and Development manager for an organisation going through a significant change process. I was once again on the other side of the table in that I was gathering and analysing tenders and appointing consultants to complete a range of organisational development, change management and leadership development projects.

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How to Choose the Right Consultant

Here are some thoughts (collated from my experiences as a manager and as a consultant) that I believe are critical to consider when looking to bring an external consultant into your business on a contract basis.


Be clear what you are wanting to achieve. What are you observing/experiencing that indicates that your team and/or your organisation requires the services of a consultant? Knowing where you are now and where you want to be, in tangible, measurable terms, provides a clear starting platform for your search and enables consultants to showcase their experience and outcomes. This allows you to align your choice of consultant to your specific needs and desired outcomes.


Where possible simplify your tender and decision-making process. Convoluted detailed invitations to tender attract the big end of town but often preclude the smaller consultancies. The lengthy invitations, requiring detailed responses can take days to complete. Small consultancies don’t have this time as they are often fully engaged fulfilling contracts. It’s only the large firms, who employ staff specifically to respond to tenders, who have the capacity. It means you could be missing out on excellent people who would be a perfect fit.


Choose real experience. Probably the most consistent feedback I receive is that my work is practical, credible, and supported by real experience. I have been a manager. I have led major change initiatives. I have been instrumental in restructures. I have managed performance concerns. I’ve been in the trenches so to speak. This experience is supported by my academic qualifications and professional accreditations. Your staff don’t need theory! They need practical strategies and realistic approaches. They need the person leading their professional development to have experience in the areas being discussed. They also need content to be evidenced based and to demonstrate real praxis (the blending of theory and practice).


Engage a consultant who will customise the training to your needs. Off the shelf training lacks credibility because it doesn’t align to the experiences of the participants and is therefore easily dismissed by them.


Bigger fee does not equal better results. Smaller consultancies can charge less because they don’t have major overheads to meet. Check the proven outcomes of any consultant before you engage them.


Another advantage of smaller consultancies is that their structures are flatter, and you get to develop a meaningful relationship with the person who will be designing and conducting your training. This gives a very important personal, and therefore more consistent, touch to all interactions as the consultant also gets to know your business and your team/s.


Engage consultants who support independent evaluation of their workshops and interventions. Having the evaluation process created and administered separately supports a more objective approach.


Use word of mouth referrals and recommendations. Pretty much all my work is word of mouth or clients moving to new organisations and taking me with them. Engaging a consultant is a significant undertaking and it is critical that outstanding outcomes are achieved. The best testimonials are ones from people you know or from your own experience.


Provide your consultant with real insights into situations relevant to the training or intervention being developed and, where possible provide case studies so that learning events can be built around the current needs, using real examples (with full confidentiality protected of course). To engage learners, we must use terminology that demonstrates that we have insight into their roles, their challenges, and their learning goals.


Prepare your staff for the training. Ascertain what they need to learn and how it will be applied. Have an ‘integration of learning’ plan established so that people can apply their learning as soon as possible after any training event. Follow up with staff in 3 months’ time to check what they have implemented and how effective it was. Many training investments are not maximised because staff return to their roles without clear reinforcement strategies to ensure learning is embedded.

As mentioned above, a large portion of my work is return work and referrals. I appreciate the opportunities I receive to really get to know my client organisations and the participants on my workshops. I was recently described by a client as ‘a friend of the sector’. That felt like a wonderful compliment to me.

Many of my coaching clients first met me when they attended my workshops or conferences presentations.

I believe that the major success factor of a consultant is their capacity (and their genuine interest) to connect with their clients and the people who attend their sessions.

I have many examples that suggest to me that this is one of the strengths of my work. I do want to note one specifically though. I attended a client’s office for a consultation meeting to support the design of some upcoming workshops. I have been offering workshops for this organisation for some years. As I arrived, I heard a familiar voice say, ‘thank goodness you’re here, it’s Alex’s birthday and we are having cake, when we heard you were coming in today, we all wanted to wait for you’.