What Makes A Good Organizational Consultant?By: Roberta Cohen
Everywhere I go, I meet management and organizational consultants. It's a field that keeps growing and with some very good reasons:
1) It's impossible to maintain full time staff, with every possible management skill that might ever be needed. For example, it's likely that a small or mid-sized organization will only need to review new hire training procedures once a year, or even less frequently. It would be cost prohibitive to keep a training consultant on salary all year, when they are only needed for one month out of twelve.
2) Even if there are folks on staff with the skill set needed to address an organizational issue or design a new system, etc., they often cannot break away from the work they are already doing, to dedicate time to the new urgency. To ask them to take on another project, when workloads are heavy, would be risking employee burnout and its associated emotional and financial costs, which are likely to be much higher than the costs of contracting with a consultant.
3) Since effective consultations are based on objective analyses and recommendations, it can be exceeding difficult to complete this from the "inside". When one is too close to both the players and the work being evaluated, the analysis can be compromised, often without this being recognized. It would be natural for an analysis to be compromised, for example, by the positive evaluation of the efforts of a dedicated employee, when in reality, his/her efforts have not yielded the needed results.
Management and organizational consultants hail from many different disciplines and can provide an array of services. Some review hiring practices; others address accounting procedures; yet others assess benefit structures. These are but a few examples. Our group consults on the impact of human behavior on organizational dynamics and productivity. When contracting for the services of a consultant, it is crucial to verify that he/she has the specific expertise that is needed. Resume and references should be checked and not taken for granted. Initial conversations and the initial project proposal should clearly reflect the person's ability to do the work.
While a consultation cannot be successful if the consultant does not have the required expertise, this is only one characteristic of a good organizational consultant. There are others just as important, if the job is going to get done:
He/she must have excellent organizational and time management skills. The consultant's initial proposal should reflect her/his ability to design a plan with clear goals and objectives, and with specific methodologies that will be utilized to reach them. Time frames in which each phase of the project are targeted to be completed, should also be part of the proposal.
He/she must have superior communication skills. To be on target, the consultant must be an attentive listener, who takes time the time to understand the intricacies of the problems that will be addressed. He/she must also be able to utilize feedback effectively, so that as the project progresses, necessary adjustments can be made. And, in order for the consultation to have enduring value, she/he must be able to convey the information and skills to others, that will be needed for the results of the consultation to be integrated into ongoing processes.
The Consultant also must have good professional boundaries. The one you wish you had never hired arrives on site and needlessly interrupts everyone's work; the seasoned consultant is mindful of organizational processes that should not be interrupted, and works to complete the project without unnecessarily hindering ongoing company operations.
Additionally, the consultant must have good personal boundaries. He/she must stay focused on the work at hand, without excessive socializing during consultation hours. He/she must also avoid forming personal relationships with company personnel, that in any way could compromise the consultation's objectivity or create a conflict of interest.
Finally, the Consultant must highly ethical. In the course of his/her work, the consultant will often have access to information about the organization that is confidential. It is highly recommended that there be a written confidentiality agreement be established, that prohibits the consultant from revealing proprietary information and communications, or trade secrets.
The consultant also must see her/himself as a consultant and not as a permanent fixture! Consultants should be ethically committed to completing their work as expeditiously as possible. And if, in the course of a consultation, a separate problem surfaces that needs attention, the organization should be presented with the option of establishing a new consultation agreement around that issue.By keeping these parameters in mind, and utilizing them to verify a consultant's ability to deliver needed services, the likelihood of having a positive collaborative experience is greatly increased. And, whenever in doubt of the contribution that a particular consultant can make, keep interviewing! The investment in time will pay for itself in the end.
© Copyright 2007, Roberta Cohen
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