How industry can get more value out of its consulting contracts

You hire a consultant to bring in outside expertise. Maybe you need communications strategies or system integration or data management or one of hundreds of other unique disciplines. Your consultants then show up with know-how, horsepower and optimism at a time when your team is running low on all three. They didn’t come cheap, though. So, of course, you want to be responsible and ensure you’re getting what you paid for. But how?

Traditionally thinking says that managing scope creep and watching the budget are key. And, yes, those are important. However, there is something else.

The single, most important thing you can do today to increase the value of your consultant contracts is to make yourself smarter on the possible solutions.

Most federal program managers are experts on the problem.

Does this sound familiar?

You know the mission and culture inside and out. You know the personalities and politics involved with how decisions get made at the top. You can pinpoint why certain problems persist, and others just evaporate. You also have technical expertise in the related public policy, technology or administration.

However, you’re a bit fuzzy on the best way to plan and launch internal communications. You’re not sure how to keep systems running while you tie them together. Or, once the volume goes beyond a single Excel spreadsheet, you’re lost.

That knowledge gap is OK and is precisely why consultants exist. However, the lack of knowledge can’t be a reason you abdicate control of your program’s future direction. The best possible client for a consultant is one who knows both the problem and the range of possible solutions — even if that’s at the 50,000-foot level.

The best, most responsible buyers of consulting services do the following:

  • Increase their awareness of the traditional approaches. They research the current thinking and scan the challenges organizations face. They know what’s possible.
  • Build their confidence by becoming conversant in the industry lingo.
  • Recognize the limits of their knowledge and ask more thought-provoking questions. In doing so, they push for more precise and nuanced recommendations.
  • Avoid disruptions. Ill-informed federal program managers manage in fits and starts. They accept deliverables without reviewing them — only to later panic and ask the consultants to go back to square one.
  • Always keep the big picture in mind.

All of this adds up to a federal program manager who knows when they’re getting good value and when they’re not. It’s this knowledge and confidence that enables the ability to press consultants for the best possible solutions and take appropriate action when they’re not getting what they need.

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Increasing your knowledge is as simple as starting with a Google search. As you know, there is a wealth of free information available. The challenge is sifting through the volume of information in an efficient way. For this reason, having a couple of credible, reliable sources such as the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and, of course, Federal News Radio can save time.

Increasing your knowledge doesn’t have to be time-consuming. You can learn a tremendous amount in a single query that will make you smarter on the topic. Increased smarts lead to asking consistently better questions and ensuring that the pieces of the problem are addressed. By doing this, you set expectations with your consultant that you’re going to be a knowledgeable partner to them in finding the best possible solution. And that’s a win for everyone.

Robin Camarote is the co-founder of Federal MicroConsulting, where she matches independent experts with federal leaders to solve their most pressing problems. Through her work as a strategic planning consultant, she seeks to empower leaders and consult with senior executives on strategies to inspire others and advance their mission. She’s the author of two books on effectiveness and professional impact.