We’ve all heard those nightmare scenarios in working with consultants: A know-it-all blazes through like a hurricane, purporting to be an expert about nearly everything with a bowlful of empty promises. Instead of customizing his or her business know-how to your own environment and circumstances, this advisor depends on the old school ways of doing things, sidestepping your ideas and emotions. In the end, your needs are never really listened to, as he or she substitutes his or her own perception for reality. These stories have perpetuated a stereotype that consultants only serve to “take over and tell you what to do.”
While such a stereotype was born out of consulting styles from the ‘80s and ‘90s, the good news is that consulting models have modernized to reflect a much more cooperative and flexible approach. However, such a specter often persists in the unconscious minds of many small business owners. It’s no wonder why some hesitate to embrace outside help. Why wouldn’t they? For many, their business is their baby—and having an outside source come in who may misinterpret their goals could be the most frustrating experience out there. The result is that too many business owners miss out on the immense value and growth potential that can come from a healthy advisory relationship. An advisor with the right skillset, cooperative models, and empathetic approach can enhance a business in a variety of areas, from its leadership to organizational design. Gaining these benefits is a matter of knowing what to look for when establishing a relationship with a new coach or consultant.
What do you look for in a coach or consultant? One who embodies trust, inspiration, and accountability in his or her value set.
The pre-contract process is a great time to get an idea of a person's or firm’s value set. Pay close attention to communication style. Their overall preparedness via the tenor and tone of virtual and live conversations in addition to whether communication is filled with confusing jargon or with thoughtful explanations can tell you if someone is respectful of your time and patient with your learning process.
You will often be able to identify early on if you’re working with someone who has a rigid, “checklist” style of consulting or someone more apt to tailored learning and teaching. You want to see relatively soon that you’re working with an advisor who gives you models for current and future decision-making, not just a generic laundry list of options or advice.
Furthermore, a good business consultant will be forthright about whether or not a particular task is outside his or her ability. Understanding how a consultant handles issues outside of their expertise or when mistakes happen (no consultant is perfect) can give you a glimpse of their character and ethical principles.
An ideal advisor is also motivational while seeking accountability from his or her clients. Confidence building is paramount, as is a demeanor that is encouraging and inspiring. Think of it as having a stellar personal trainer, holding you accountable for the work while praising your milestones. Inquiring about how an advisor instills accountability throughout the process is another great way to find the right fit.
Don’t let perceptions and stereotypes prevent you from reaping the benefits of a quality relationship. Through these few tips on how to be judicious about who you let into your business, you can find a consultant with strong principles— one that makes a personal connection, understands not just the tasks at hand, but also the feelings and emotions connected to your business, and someone that encourages authentic progress and growth. Bringing in this outside help can be a real game-changer with positive effects ranging from an increase of revenue to a more effective organizational culture.