By Anja van den Berg
The gig economy is big business and many leaders solicit the help of external consultants. However, the value and benefit of working with consultants depend on the manager. The onus to brief falls on the person who hired the consultant – the results won’t be what the manager expects if they don’t provide consulting with the proper foundation.
To get the most from their investment, James Fulton advises managers to avoid the trap of oversimplifying the briefing and underestimating what it takes to create results.
Fulton is the chief learning officer and global head of talent at the financial services firm Goldman Sachs.
Managers who don’t grasp the art of working with consultants not only pay the price of a missed opportunity, they also run the risk of not addressing the issues they’re seeking to resolve.
Fulton recommends three ways for managers to get the most out of their engagement with external advisors:
- Situational assessment
Start by asking yourself what kind of help will make the biggest difference. Categorise the concerns you want to have addressed. This step will determine the nature of the help you need. For example, you might need expert technical input to solve a problem directly, or you might benefit from leadership consulting to help you marshal your team’s resources to solve the problem. Fulton says that executives make two common mistakes at this stage. First, they lack time, curiosity, or even skill to adequately understand the issue at hand and then oversimplify problems. Second, some leaders come to rely on a small number of trusted advisors. This can go awry when the dilemmas are repeatedly defined through the lens of those advisors’ strengths.
It sounds obvious, but asking for outside help will require a willingness to be helped. Hiring an external advisor only to keep “correcting” them means that you don’t benefit from their expertise or innovative thinking. Leaders who prefer to be right all the time are those who will lose their return on investment. It takes confidence to say “I don’t know” or “I might be wrong.” Those with power are prone to overconfidence, and leaders can feel vulnerable when asking for help when, in fact, it’s a sign of strength to know your limitations.
- Interpersonal alliances and owning the problem
Managers cannot pass the concern they are trying to address to the consultant like a ball on the basketball court. Executives and advisors should work together and co-own the issue towards resolution and drive outcomes. Both the consultant and the manager must adopt a mindset of responsibility. One side shouldn’t treat the other as though they’re of a lower or higher status.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/09/so-you-hired-a-consultant-heres-how-to-get-your-moneys-worth