To consult or not in five simple questions
When and where to seek external support
We all need help in our professional careers from time to time. Asking a Management Consultant for help is a good way to ensure you get professional and competent support, but it can be a time-consuming and costly affair. At the same time the problem you are trying to address might be an important one. One that could impact the future of your career, so it is important to get it right. What kind of help to get is, therefore, a choice that should not be taken lightly.
In my experience there are five simple questions that can guide you to a good decision on this topic. The way you answer these questions will impact time, money and the quality of the outcome, so consider your answer carefully before moving on to the next. If you cannot answer any of the five questions to a satisfactory level, it is time to call a consulting house.
1. Can I do it on my own?
Do you have the required skills and experience to tackle the topic on your own? If you do, it is tempting to do it yourself. Indeed, many believe this is the only way of ensuring that something is done correctly. It may not be that straight forward though. Do you have the capacity to deal with a side project? Are you too close to the action to stay subjective? Do you need the perspective of someone else? If you can, then the fastest and simplest way is just doing the thing.
2. Do I know someone who can?
If, for whatever reason, you do not believe that it is the best option to address the problem on your own, then is there someone in your immediate vicinity that can help? A colleague in your office perhaps? Do they have the capacity and competence required? Are they willing to help you? If there is, then this might be the route for you. I have been fortunate to work in organizations with great talent where I could typically turn to a colleague for help if needed, but we are not always this lucky.
3. Does my company have the capability outside my immediate network?
If there is no one close by, perhaps there is still someone within the organization? Look for pockets of competence in specialist teams or use your network to reach out for advice. Is there an intranet or knowledge management tool that can help you identify the right person? I once reached out on an internal “ask the expert” type intranet page with a very specific query and was contacted within hours by someone with a doctorate on the subject, so it is possible.
4. If I must go outside, is there a free way of doing it?
If there is no help to be had inhouse, it is time to look outside. Time and money are however important to most of us so look for some free resources first. What does Google have to say on the subject? Are there related forums, blogs or communities of practice? Can you educate yourself sufficiently to tackle the challenge through online courses, books, articles and do you have the time for it? This is how I address most technical challenges in my private life. But if YouTube videos and gaffer-tape are not going to cut it, it is time to realize that you might need to pay for help.
5. If I must go outside, is there a fast simple and reasonable way of doing it?
If unable to comfortably answer yes to any of the above, then it is time to scrape a budget together and go shopping in the vast and confusing marketplace of hired help. What is the most reasonable way of securing external help and how can I ensure they have got what it takes? If experience is what you need, but you are not quite prepared to pay the big consulting rates, an independent option could be something for you. Look for someone with big consulting background to ensure quality, but an independent set-up to reduce overhead. This might cut your bill in half and secure a more experienced consultant. A digital marketplace, like advisorybay, where it is fast and simple to find such top talent could be an option for you.
If you are not able to fulfill your need at any of the five stages above, then it might indeed be time to call one of the big consulting houses for help. If you can foot the bill and wait 4-6 weeks for work to commence, they are likely to take good care of you. Just make sure you can tell your boss that you did explore other options when asked about the hole in the budget.
If you are in the market for a management consultant, make sure to read our coming blog on how to choose the right consultant for your needs. Please comment and share.