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Leveraging Consultants Wisely A CEOs Perspective

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Peter Drucker

In the dynamic world of business, the decision to bring in a consultant is often a careful and strategic one. For CEOs, like myself, the choice of using external expertise should be approached with both caution and insight. Consultants can be invaluable assets, but ensuring their efficiency and alignment with your goals is crucial.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence—it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” – Peter Drucker

Consultants, when not managed appropriately, can spiral into consuming time and resources without delivering tangible results. Selecting a consultant must be based on their potential to provide unique insights and expertise, rather than merely offering additional workforce. Their costs, competencies, and compatibility with your company’s mission should be diligently assessed.

As a CEO who now consults, I can affirm that a better path exists—a path of productive collaboration and value creation.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs

The oft-quoted adage, that a consultant is someone who learns your business to sell their expertise to others next week, can be valid if not managed correctly. However, consultants can serve as collaborators when engaged thoughtfully and as partners invested in your success.

Types of Consultants
The difference between what the client thinks they need and what they actually do need is the consultant's value-added.
1. Content or specific knowledge in a particular field (i.e. marketing in a particular industry), scientists, programmers with certain language skills.
For any single person project, ALWAYS interview and hire only the INDIVIDUAL who you know will actually perform the work. Never hire a FIRM on their reputation, as in personal services only the individual matters.
2. Expertise - Knowledge that transcends any one industry and is applicable in many areas. (i.e. management and strategy consultants)
3. Knowledge - This is experience, as in "been there, done that" exactly as an operational participant (not as a consultant). This is the type of consulting the C-Level provides and means doing what you have done before many times.
4. Behavioral - People who specialize in facilitation and third-party intervention or training. (i.e. focus groups, image consultants)
5. Rolodex - People who facilitate meeting other people. Generally, a slimy way to make a living in my view, as the value-added is debatable, and selling access to other people is a dubious way to make a living. However, sometimes a necessary evil for a short period of time.

“The first rule of management is delegation. Don’t try and do everything yourself because you can’t.” – Anthea Turner

It’s vital to recognize that a consultant’s true value often lies in what the client doesn’t understand. Proximity to the industry or biases might cloud your judgment. A consultant’s role, therefore, should encompass defining the problem and crafting a solution in tandem with you.

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu

The disparity between perceived needs and actual needs is where a consultant’s unique contribution lies. Their external perspective can illuminate hidden challenges and propose solutions that align with your long-term objectives.

“The only thing that is constant is change.” – Heraclitus

To harness the power of consultants effectively, consider these top ten tips:

  1. Consultants must actively participate in defining the project and identifying the problem. Their value lies in knowledge and experience, not just execution.

  2. Trust and integrity are paramount. Align goals and consider flat-rate projects after well-defined scope to eliminate time-driven motives.

  3. Focus on individuals over firms. Sole practitioners can often provide cost-effective solutions with more attention to detail.

  4. Match specific experience to the problem, reassessing after a well-defined project.

  5. Identify the type of consultant needed, ensuring alignment with the issue.

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“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein

  1. Start with smaller projects as a litmus test before committing to larger undertakings.

  2. Consultants need support from your staff. They should aid in bringing forth solutions that might already exist within your team.

  3. Regular updates are essential for alignment and transparency, ensuring a smoother collaboration.

  4. Maintain tangible targets, costs, and dates, unless the consultant’s role is advisory.

  5. Cultivate relationships with diverse consultants for varied perspectives, aiding critical decisions.

“The future depends on what you do today.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Incorporate a well-defined project process:

  1. Analyze and define the problem through research and interviews. This step can take a significant portion of the project’s resources, but often uncovers untapped solutions.
  2. Evaluate solution options collaboratively, iterating to ensure a comprehensive approach.
  3. Implement the chosen solution.
  4. Analyze the results and make adjustments based on feedback.

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

The essence lies in understanding that consultants offer the power of an external perspective, helping to navigate corporate inertia and adapt to changes. Whether you need them sporadically or regularly, ensure your consultant collaboration is a strategic choice, harnessed for growth and innovation.

Bob Norton is a long-time Serial Entrepreneur, CEO and investor who founded six companies with four exits that returned over $1 billion to investors for a 25X ROI. Two others are still in development. He has trained, consulted and advised thousands of Entrepreneurs, CEOs and boards since 2002. Mr. Norton works with companies to 2X to 10X growth rates and valuation using AirTight Management™, the world’s most comprehensive Leadership Operating System. He also helps companies raise capital to fund growth. He is also the Founder of The CEO Boot Camp™ and Entrepreneurship Universityfor early-stage companies that have not reached product-market fit and $1M ARR.

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