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Workshop report: Consultants: Why and when do we need them?


Jon Seaton Hi Jane. We seem to have a very quiet session today!

Jane Boyd Hi Jon – yes it seems so – this is the first time I’ve been to a workshop how about you?

Jon Seaton I’m the editor for HR Zone, so I’ve conducted quite a few! It’s very easy really – just type and press enter.

Jon Seaton You can also open a private chat box by double clicking on the name in the right hand column – like this…

Jane Boyd Right – I’m not sure effective a debate it’s going to be with just the 2 of us – what views do you have about us consultants then? That private chat box really fooled me then.

Jon Seaton My views? well there are good ones and bad ones like other parts of life, but…

Jon Seaton I also think that consultants get too much of the blame when they are called in and companies/organisations are not too clear on what they want in the first place!

Jane Boyd I agree, but it is the consultant’s job to either clarify their remit or inform the client that it is so unclear that they may not get the results they wish

Jon Seaton First job – specify the job that the consultant needs to do, specify outcomes and agree what the criteria are to assess whether the outcomes have been achieved.

Jon Seaton Ties in with your point I think

Jane Boyd Yes – so surely a lot of the time when it goes wrong the consultant is as much to blame as the client if not more…

Jane Boyd I think that consultants are too often greedy for the money and will take a job rather than walking away from it as they should

Jon Seaton Yes it can be that way. Like I say there are good consultants and some not so good. It is really a mute point whether we blame the consultant or the company. They could both take responsibility for ensuring the consultancy service reaches the required aims.

Jon Seaton I think you have a valid point on knowing when to walk away though!

Jane Boyd The problem is that if a consulatnt takes such a job and it doesn’t go well, they won’t get any further business from that client and other poeple they know – customers ervice really

Jon Seaton Knowing your subject as a consultant is one thing, but being able to keep up regular and useful communication with the client is a central part of the role I think.

Jon Seaton I certainly think that the consultant risks their future if they take a job and then don’t make as great a success of it as they could

Jane Boyd It is – although in some of my recent jobs, it is very difficult to keep in contact – for example I recently had a job where I had to be in the office in the evenings and no-one was around. So it was all done by email…

Jon Seaton How did you manage it?

Jane Boyd I had to turn up each evening hoping that the person who had been sent the email would have been able to do what I’d asked them to do. It was a bit of a nightmare.

Jon Seaton Hi Mick – Jane and I are having a chat catch up using the transcript link below

Jon Seaton What are your specialisms Jane?

Jane Boyd I’m in training and development.So, the main skill; a consultant needs is to be able to communicate effectively with their clients – that one is quite obvious. But what else do they need to be able to do to make their jobs work?

Jon Seaton I think it still centres on a broad communication – making sure that other influencers within the client business have bought into what is looking to be achieved

Mick Gill Hi there….I’ve had a read of the transcript

Jon Seaton Are you involved in consultancy work Mick?

Mick Gill Not really, I’m a development manager for an sme in Lincolnshire

Jon Seaton Have you used consultants? or maybe thinking of doing so?

Mick Gill I have used consultants quite a lot in the past but less so more recently

Jon Seaton What have been your experiences?

Mick Gill A bit mixed really!….most have provided the knowledge and expertise we needed but we’ve been disappointed also with some.

Jane Boyd Why?

Mick Gill One particular occasion where we found that the consultant had got less skill, qualification and experience that our own staff…..he was a better salesperson though!!

Jon Seaton Jane – I suppose that the other thing to consider is what the nature of the “issue” is. Is it a systems, human or skills issue. Clarifying that can help in marshalling resources and skills instead of just automatically assuming a skills deficit.

Jane Boyd You know, I think that happens quite a lot – I’ve certainly been close to setting someone on when I found that out in a previous role.

Jane Boyd Sorry Jon you’re way ahead of me – I’ll just answer that last one for you..

Jane Boyd Yes – I think it’s really difficult to make sure you do that correctly (client or consultant) bevcause…

Jane Boyd If you’re a speacialst in Training and Development you may just steer the solution to your own specialism because it’s a passion or because it’s going to be more lucrative for you.

Mick Gill Yes, I agree. Trouble is, we don’t always identify exactly what we need or know where the issue is. We may think we do but deeper analysis can prove us wrong

Mick Gill Sorry….I type a bit slow!!

Jon Seaton We don’t always know what we don’t know!

Jane Boyd So that’s why you set on a consultant – the viscious circle!

Jane Boyd To be a great consultant you need to be confident enough to pass the job to someone else if you don’t have the skills or specialism – that’s where having a big network of people is important.

Jon Seaton How much should you shop around and short-list for consultants?

Jane Boyd In previous roles, I’ve always spent time looking at 3 or 4 who’s rates fall within my budget…

Mick Gill I’d go along with that, too

Jane Boyd It’s always useful to really get to know a few who know your company and the way you like to work and then you can call upon them whent he nned arises.

Jane Boyd Sorry my typing is getting worse

Jon Seaton How do you assess their strengths, weaknesses and record?

Jon Seaton Mone two

Jon Seaton 🙂

Jane Boyd I suppose a lot of it is starting with a small project and if you’re happy you give them something bigger. Once you know them well you can pick and choose much easier.

Jane Boyd I have been through quite a number of assessment centres as a consultant, but the problem is they are costly to both parties and often don’t test the skills required effectively

Jon Seaton Would you go as far as getting references from other clients? Would you give references to another company?

Jane Boyd Definitely – that’s got to be the quickest way to check them out. You do have to think about the skills they needed for that other client and if they were the same as the ones you need now.

Mick Gill We’ve done that on several occasions.

Jane Boyd My clients have been happy to provide a reference in the past

Jon Seaton Well, unfortunately, we’ve run past closing time at 13.45. But although few in number I think it’s been useful! I shall see if we can’t schedule another on this topic.

Mick Gill Sorry I was late joining

Jon Seaton No worries Mick! Join us next time? Thanks to you both!

Jane Boyd Sorry about that, I just lost you for a couple of minutes

Jon Seaton ‘fraid we’ve hit closing time Jane, I was just saying thanks to you both!

Jane Boyd Thanks Jon and Mick

Jon Seaton Bye!

Mick Gill Thanks to you, too

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