Ability to Listen and Understand your Specific Needs
Many consultants will greet you with their own slick PowerPoint slides filled with jargon and carefully branded methods. While this may serve to illustrate some depth of knowledge, it can also be a red flag that your potential improvement partner is lacking in another key attribute, empathy. Empathy being the ability to listen and adapt the conversation appropriately to maximize the benefit for all involved.
It has been said that there are many paths to your chosen destination, all a person (or an organization) needs do is choose the path that is best for them and take the first step. While there are many proven methods, techniques, and terminology available to guide an improvement journey, we need to find the best combination of these factors that will help your organization achieve its highest potential….what we call it matters much less than the measurable value we can achieve and communicate with others.
A good consulting partner who can best guide you on this journey will listen carefully and seek to understand your current situation. From this understanding, they should be able to share with you the experiences of customers in similar situations (not always the exact same industry, but similar enough to illustrate the point) and help paint a picture of how they set out on this journey, the challenges they faced, and the measurable improvements they enjoyed at the end of their journey.
Approach with caution those potential consulting partners who seem to walk in the door for the first time with the answer in hand. They may not be as open to listening and learning about you.
While well-established business processes and techniques can certainly accelerate your ability to learn and grow, unbending dogmatic approaches can often stand in the way of your own people embracing such a process as their own…. you often hear them refer to such programs as the “consulting firm X approach” rather than our internal business system.
Starting with an Exit Strategy
When hiring someone to help you on your reliability journey, you are not looking for a lifetime commitment, but rather some short-term assistance to overcome some obstacles you are facing. If you were looking for a longer commitment, you might just hire someone with the appropriate skill and expertise.
A good partner in your improvement journey will start with an exit strategy in mind. What are we trying to accomplish? How will we get there? How can we transfer and internalize the skill and knowledge to internal personnel to ensure that we have the best chance of sustaining our improvements once we have reached the goal we had in mind?
A consulting candidate that cannot help you build such a vision may not be the right partner for you. Think deliverables, measurement of value, transfer of knowledge, and sustainability when shaping up the details of your partnership.
A Track Record of Proven Results and Leadership Skills
Finally, a good consulting partner should be able to offer tangible case studies explaining how they have helped other organizations facing similar challenges. They should be able to tell you this story confidently in a short, succinct way, with a theme of deliverables, measurement of value, transfer of knowledge, and sustainability. Evidence of successful project management, team building, and conflict resolution should be present.
Use caution when listing long meandering diatribes about customer experiences that are filled with tales of extensive activity and analysis, with an unclear measurable return at the end. If one cannot explain what they accomplished, but rather fill the airwaves with endless accounts of high levels of activity, often illustrated by page count or some meant to be an impressively high number of analyses performed, it is possible they did not consider the desired outcome at the beginning of that effort.
Be especially mindful of criticism of past customers…likely in the form of “Well we would have achieved this with customer X, but they just were not willing to listen…”. The duty of a consulting partner is just that…be a partner…listen, learn, and adapt to help your customer best achieve their potential. If the best one has to offer in conversation later is some tale of how we would have been successful if only the customer had listened to them, they might not be that partner you are looking for.