How does an organisation choose and appoint a consultant – especially when doing so for the first time – and ensure that the selection procedure produces a properly qualified, sound professional? There are a number of steps to consider:

The key steps in defining the problem include:

  • Describe the job you want done and specify the outcomes (results, benefits, reports etc.) you expect from the assignment.
  • Understand precisely how you expect your business will benefit from the work.
  • Decide on the timescale, scope and any constraints on the assignment.
  • Clarify which key staff (including yourself) will be involved, and how their time will be made available.
  • Consult any fellow directors/key managers on the nature of the problem (where appropriate).
  • Define the expertise you want – is it a systems or a human problem, as you perceive it?
  • You may find that the assistance you require fits better into a regular ‘hand holding’ discussion or counselling session with the consultant rather than a defined assignment. Many clients obtain considerable value from scheduling assistance in this way – but make sure you still get a written fee quote and agree clear terms of reference.
You must fully brief the consultants asked to quote, i.e. give them all background to your definition of the problem. Otherwise you’ll get proposals that don’t meet your requirements.

Make sure you only ask consultants to quote for the work who are qualified to carry it out. The Institute of Management Consultants and Advisers has a Code of Conduct which requires its members not to undertake assignments for which they are not qualified. If you do not know a suitable consultant, use the Institute’s free Client Enquiry Service to put you in contact with a number of qualified consultants, both individuals and practices.

Ask potential consultants to send you their CVs or to come to talk to you about the task – they should do this free of charge. Consulting is a people-driven service – make sure that the ‘chemistry’ between you and the consultant is right, and that you meet the consultant or team leader who is going to do the work.

All members of the Institute subscribe to a Code of Professional Conduct and Certified Management Consultants are certified against international best practice standards.

For help in locating a suitable consultant, see Find a Consultant.

Ask the short-listed consultants (two or three maximum) to provide you with a detailed written proposal covering:

  • their understanding of the problem;
  • terms of reference;
  • the names and CVs of the people who will do the work;
  • other support provided by the firm;
  • the work plan and timescale;
  • the work plan and timescale;
  • fees and expenses and schedule of payment;
  • inputs required from you.

If you are not happy with any of the proposals do not feel pressurised into accepting one – go back to the starting point or discuss it further with the proposers. Remember the cheapest will not necessarily give the best value for money.

Talk through your chosen proposal with the consultants and management team prior to making a final decision. Make sure all concerns have been addressed and get references from past clients.

Finally, check out the 10 Golden Rules for selecting and using a consultant.