5 Steps to Getting the Most Out of a Good Consultant

Change: this time of year, it's in the air. And yet, the transformation of American leadership––that for years has been long sought after to improve America's employees and her manufacturing base–just never seems to materialize. When change becomes necessary, however, say due to a company crisis, that change just can't come fast enough for most CEOs.

But often times, rather than turn to within an organization’s existing talent pool for help, CEOs must turn to consultants. So just when should a CEO call on a specialist rather than their own team, and what makes for a successful long-term relationship, where that long-term value is clearly definable between both parties?

While consultants have fewer blind spots than those who must live with the day-to-day problems within an organization, they don’t have all the answers required to begin transforming a company. But consultants do provide another set of eyes that can help identify key areas within the business, where improvement will provide the biggest bang for the CEO’s immediate consulting buck.

“Once teams experience successful outcomes from small changes, they improve their own beliefs, seeing for themselves what’s possible when that change adds up to something material.”

So how does a CEO forge a successful relationship with their consultant, to then create sustainable, long-term improvements for their organization? Here’s how some CEOs generated success.

1. Think long-term… Before hiring a consultant, don’t get stuck thinking that hiring consultants for one large project will suddenly transform your company. It won’t.

2. …but also small. The best consultants take on small projects that can be more readily sustained, rather than large projects where sustaining change over the long haul is unlikely. In addition, once teams experience successful outcomes from small changes, they improve their own beliefs, seeing for themselves what’s possible when that change adds up to something material.

Another benefit of small change projects is how the brain manages that change. Our amygdala—think of it as a gate that closes when it senses fear—is believed to recognize large change as extremely difficult. When the amygdala senses difficulty, it sends out a signal, closing the gate down to large-scale change. You and I recognize this gate closing as “fight or flight.” But the amygdala isn’t conditioned to respond the same way to small changes. So, it’s much easier to have your team work on projects they can succeed at a little at a time rather than all at once.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains his “Golden Rule of Habit Change.” “You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it,” Duhigg states. Good consultants help change those habits a little at a time, rather than just extinguishing old ones all at once.

3. Invite the uncomfortable. If comfort defines you and your company, don’t expect consultants to improve your future. They can’t. You’re wasting your time, your money, and your stakeholders’ as well.

4. Maintain a smooth transition. When it comes to transferring knowledge from consultants to employees, employees don’t just need to know how to do something differently, rather, they need to discover “why” it’s important to them, not just to you, especially if their jobs and the company are both going to be transformed from firefighters to taking on new roles as agents of continuous improvement.

5. Encourage curiosity. Constant discovery makes life at work worthwhile and interesting. Helping employees engage their curiosity to be more productive doesn’t happen when a consultant simply tells them to do something differently. Teams must participate and discover things for themselves, even if they make mistakes. They must also experience the change over and over until it becomes new habit.

Finally, trust your consultant with company knowledge. The more knowledge consultants have, the better they will be at transferring that knowledge to you. And the faster they are able to absorb that knowledge, the quicker you’ll begin seeing sustainable improvements.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events