Welcome to this six-part series on the foundations of consulting. If you have not been following along with us, then we encourage you to read parts 1-5, referenced from the bottom of this article. Part 1 establishes the basis for the series by using Peter Block’s definition of a consultant as someone who is trying to change another person, process, or organization, but who has no direct control over what they are trying to change. (We highly recommend his book “Flawless Consulting.”) This article describes good reasons and poor reasons to hire consultants.
Good Reasons to Hire External Consultants
- The organization has limited or no expertise in the area of need, for example, to develop a new product or program for customers and clients.
- The time of need is short-term, for example, less than a year, so it may not be worth hiring a full-time, permanent staff member.
- The organization’s previous attempts to meet its own needs were not successful, for example, the organization developed a Strategic Plan that was never implemented.
- Organization members continue to disagree about how to meet the need and, thus, bring in a consultant to provide expertise or facilitation skills to come to a consensus.
- Leaders want an objective perspective from someone without strong biases about the organization’s past and current issues.
- A consultant can do the work that no one else wants to do, for example, historical data entry. (Some would argue that this is not really a consulting project.)
- A funder or other key stakeholder demands that a consultant be brought in to help further develop the organization.
Poor Reasons to Hire External Consultants
The following reasons are likely to open to disagreement – some people would argue that some or all of the following are good reasons to hire a consultant.
- The organization wants a consultant to lend credibility to a decision that has already been made, for example, the Board of Directors has decided to reorganize the nonprofit, but the Chief Executive Officer disagrees – so the Board hires a consultant to lend expert credibility to their decision. Many consultants might consider this reason to hire a consultant unethical.
- A supervisor does not want to directly address a problem of poor performance with one of the employees, so the supervisor hires a consultant to do the job that the employee should be doing. This is an irresponsible action on the part of the supervisor.
- The organization does not want to pay benefits (vacation pay, holiday pay, pension, etc.) or go through the administrative processes to withhold payroll taxes (social security taxes, federal taxes, etc.) for a position — a position that seems consistent and long-term, e.g., longer than a year or more — so the organization hires a consultant. This reason for hiring a consultant is likely to be illegal and could result in the organization paying fines and penalties to the appropriate government agency. The organization should proactively contact the IRS to discuss this situation.
What do you think?
Look for the articles in this series, including:
- What Do Consultants Do?
- How Do Consultants Work?
- Most Important Goals and Working Assumptions of Consultants
- Major Types of Consultants
- Internal and External Consultants
- Good Reasons – and Poor Reasons – to Hire Consultants
Information in this post was adapted from the book Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development by Carter McNamara, MBA, Ph.D. For training on consulting skills, see the Consultants Development Institute. For more resources, see the Free Management Library’s topic All About Consulting.