Ask Patty: Aligning Process and Purpose (March 2018)
I’m really nervous. I just hired my first consultant to help us create a strategic plan. I want to make sure the organization gets their money’s worth and we end up with a useful plan. Can you give me any tips about how best to work with a consultant?
Dear Nervous Nelly,
I’m glad you reached out with this question. Here are some questions to answer before hiring a consultant. You may decide to share some of this information in an RFP and/or interview:
1. How much time will your organization be able to devote to this project? What is the timeline for the project, and how much staff time will be devoted to the project?
2. Which staff people will be involved in the project?
3. Besides staff, who will need to give input into the project, and what will the process be to engage these stakeholders?
4. What kind of background information does the consultant need in order to move the project forward?
5. On what criteria will you be assessing the consultant’s work? What would success look like?
6. What changes do you hope to see as a result of the work with the consultant? For example, for many organizations a strategic plan is an opportunity to reengage stakeholders and get them excited about the mission of the organization. How could the process support these changes?
Please remember that part of a consultant’s role is to tell you what they can do based on your organization’s timeline and the resources that are available.
Please be open to feedback that your goals cannot be accomplished with the resources and time available, and consider revising your goals and/or timeline.
Once you’ve hired a consultant, you’ll want to make sure to communicate with them about the following issues:
1. Who will be the primary point of contact with the consultant? Make sure the consultant is clear about who to contact when questions arise.
2. How often will you be in contact with the consultant? For example, will you have regular meetings or phone calls? What form of communication is preferred?
3. What aspects of your organization’s culture should the consultant know about?
4. Have there been any recent stressful organizational events or hard conversations that would be useful for the consultant to know about?
5. If anything changes in your organization that would affect the project the consultant is working on, please notify them immediately.
Respect your consultant’s time. They are not on salary and every hour counts! Give them constructive feedback regularly so they can give you the best work product possible.
This column offers tips and tools for building democratic workplaces, improving workplace culture & communication, and aligning how we do our work (process) with why we do our work (purpose). Patty is a fictional adjunct of The Blue Door Group, LLC — a real Philadelphia-based consulting firm focused on designing and teaching participatory process for learning, dialogue, and capacity-building. Do you have a question for Patty? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Ask Patty” in the subject line