The pros and cons of hiring a consultant

Most organisations anywhere in the world have experience with hiring a consultant. Either to help them shape their strategic plans, providing them with an independent, outside-in and expert view, or to support project-related work and broader transformations.

While external advice can come as a crucial aid to leaders, hiring a management consultant is not right for everyone. It is therefore important to understand the pros and cons of hiring an advisor before potentially starting the contracting process.

Pros of a consultant

Perhaps the biggest advantage of hiring a business consultant is that they usually operate in narrow areas, meaning they can bring detailed and in-depth expertise required for any given sector or organisation. As consultants will work with multiple clients in their specialist area, they will also be aware of the latest trends and developments in the field; something which can help organisations stay ahead of the curve and get the maximum potential out of new methods and models.

As a result, consultants can not only help their clients with immediate decision making processes, but will also help build a long-term structure which can lead to an increase in productivity and performance, generating an easily quantifiable return on investment.

A permanent employee may be subject to the internal ‘politics’ of an organisation, meaning they may agree to things to please their boss rather than because they make good sense. Consultants, on the other hand, bring an independent perspective, which could result in a big change in the way you run your business.

A good consultant will always be unbiased and objective, and as they have no personal connection to the organisation, their ‘out-of-box’ thinking means they can focus only on the goal/plan agreed with their client, without being caught up in internal distractions.

Beyond the immediate fees paid to the consultant, organisations deploying external expertise for individual projects do not incur overhead costs, such as providing benefits, or even having to supply a computer and a workspace.

This also means there is a level of flexibility involved in contracting a consultant; clients can extend their contract based on their requirements and the results achieved during the initial term, without having to worry about contributing to another pension fund, or having to cover holidays and or sick pay.

Best practices
Consultants work for a diversity of clients, and therefore can bring experience from a variety of companies and industries. This diversity in thinking allows them to offer creative solutions. In addition, it puts them in a good position to provide insight in best practices. By learning from the best performers in industry, organisations can find ways of improving their own operations.

Keeping the business running
When organisations staff their projects, they can for some roles consider using internal resources instead of a consultant. But in some cases, taking resources out of the standing organisation can impact the running operation, meaning that using consultants can be a valuable means of ensuring business continuity.

Cons of a consultant

It is advisable for would-be-clients to have their finances in order before engaging a consultant. While in the long-term, the fact an organisation only pays for what they use from a consultant, whereas an employee would be a continuous expense whether or not their skills were in use, a business consultant is usually more expensive in the present than an employee.

If running on a low budget, a project should therefore only hire a consultant if an organisation is sure it will help improve the productivity/profits, or if there is no other option.

While consultants will have a range of analytics to show that engaging them is a smart step, there is no such thing as a guaranteed investment. There is always a possibility – even if a consultant would argue that it is a slim one – that an organisation might not achieve the results it had in mind when hiring a consultant, irrespective of the cost.

Risk of this kind can be minimised by looking at the consultant’s past work, and conducting a reference check, but risk averse individuals will still likely be uncomfortable with the uncertainty surrounding the hire of a consultant.

Brain drain?
Consultants bring vast amounts of knowledge and experience to the table, but there is a risk that they take that with them when they leave the project and organisation. For organisations to reap the full benefits, it is important to ensure that knowledge is transferred to the standing organisation, and that consultants participate in this handover process.

One-size-fits all
Facing unique challenges due to a client organisation’s unique DNA, consultants should in theory create customised and tailored solutions. However, in practice many consultants still approach their role with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Rather than tailoring their advice and support to the client, they can be inclined to re-use pre-cooked methods and toolkits, enabling them to deliver faster and more cost-effective, but with the risk of adding less value at their client.

While appointing a consultant for short-term problem solving can add flexibility and agility to an organisation, many rival organisations are also aware of this, so consultants may not always be available. If an organisation does manage to book a consultant, then that individual’s time will usually be spread across multiple clients they are serving. As a result, there may be times when a consultant is needed urgently to help an aspect of the project, but they will be unavailable.