I argued in a previous post What Clients Want – And Consultants Don´t Always Give, that organizations and executives are increasingly looking for a new category of consultants that I call Conscious Consultants. These are consultants who can focus on their clients’ needs and on the noble purpose that inspires the activity of consulting: to help others do better. So when it comes to selecting a consultant to work with you, what exactly should you look for to make sure the consultant you hire is a conscious consultant?
Checking whether your candidate has knowledge of the topic he or she will consult in sounds like an obvious starting point. Asking for a brief presentation about this is important, and I will assume you all know how to do this or that you can bring in people in your organization who can do this expertly. At the same time, it is such an obvious criterion that it defeats its purpose: the consultancy process does not depend on this to be successful, but rather on the consultant’s ability to make this specific subject matter content and expertise available, and apply it in practical and doable solutions for his or her clients.
So, the most common question I have received from many readers – executives at consultancies and clients who hire consultants – is how do you know a consultant is “already there” or has the makings of the conscious consultant?
After running recruitment processes around the world, failing many times in getting the right people in, and as many times making it work, I have had the chance to reflect, extract learnings and make improvements. Three of the things that I have found to work very well when assessing fit are:
1) Listening vs. talking: a very good way to assess how consultants think is to hear what they have to ask, how much time they spend understanding before talking and jumping to solutions. A very common mistake people in companies make is to think that a consultant’s only role is to bring solutions. They will even kick them out because they didn´t do much talking! If you are looking to hire a conscious consultant, I invite you to consider how someone can bring solutions without understanding “what´s in it for me” as a client?
A very practical way of testing this is to see how consultants spend the first 10 minutes of the meeting: do they do all the talking or do they check what you as a client want to take out of the meeting and then run the meeting on that basis? The latter is a sign of a conscious consultant.
2) The dog vs. the horse – the ability to say no: when doing trainings in Leadership, I learned a big difference between the work with dogs and horses. Dogs would do whatever they need to do to receive their owner’s love. This is why they make such endearing pets. Horses on the other hand, do not base their behavior on satisfying others. Their behavior is based on trust, the instinct to follow and a relationship of empathy and honesty. Therefore, checking if you are hiring a horse or a dog is critical! Do you want to have someone that would do whatever you tell them to do or someone who would be honest, deliver on what they promise and challenge you when needed?
A very good way to test this is to make a crazy request and see how your applicant responds. Interestingly, sometimes getting a NO or a push-back can be a way to assess self-assurance, honesty and a future trust relationship. If you want a Partner, not a vendor, this is critical.
3) Walking their talk: find a way to expose the consultant to deliver, live, what they preach at a values level, for this is what they will bring into your organization. For example, if they say they are customer-centric and that they really customize things to client needs, you could bring some concerns and questions about their offering to see how they react to them: are they really listening and thinking with you about the solutions or are they still offering what they originally brought?
These are three points of assessment and some ideas on how to put them into practice. They work if you are a member of a consultancy, are looking to hire a conscious consultant and if you are selecting a Partner to do consulting work in your organization. There can be more depending on the situation, and I´m sure you will find your own way to assess fit in response to your own context and needs. If you need more examples, information or suggestions, let me know by responding to these ideas.
About the author
Francisco is Axialent’s CEO. As a member of Axialent’s founding team, he combines the experience of opening new markets, partnering with global clients in their transformation journeys, and creating business operating platforms from scratch. Read more >