Many organizations hire financial consultants and other interim professionals to help them execute complex projects that require specialized expertise. Business systems and performance improvement, taxation, risk and compliance, and finance optimization initiatives are some examples.
A consultant’s impact on your organization can last well beyond the duration of a specific assignment. Consultants typically have diverse professional experience that allows them to lend unique perspectives to solving business problems. They know of different ways to tackle challenges and manage change, and can pass their knowledge and ideas onto your team.
To promote that type of knowledge-sharing, and help ensure the consulting engagement is a rewarding experience for everyone involved, consider applying the following strategies.
At the beginning of the project …
Communicate the details of the assignment
Managers need to make it clear to the consultant what the organization wants to accomplish. That means good communication is paramount.
Explain the project details and your expectations clearly. Lack of clarity around goals can undermine the consultant’s productivity and leave that person feeling detached from the organization and its objectives from the outset of the initiative.
Don’t overlook the work culture factor
Engaging financial consultants can be an effective way for your firm to operate at full capacity when internal resources are limited or otherwise unavailable. But this strategy is only effective if you take the time to integrate these professionals into the work environment, just as you would a new employee.
If they are going to achieve the objectives you’ve set before them, it’s critical for consultants to understand your workplace culture and have an opportunity to build camaraderie with your employees — even if it’s only for the short term.
During the project …
Consider the consultant’s professional goals
Professionals develop new skills and broaden their professional experience by pursuing project work. And many accounting and finance professionals become consultants specifically because they seek diverse assignments and a wide range of work experiences.
These are reasons it can be worthwhile to explain to consultants how opportunities with your firm can help them to develop professionally. Demonstrating that you’re interested in the consultant’s goals as a professional also helps to bolster your firm’s reputation as an employer of choice. Remember, consultants have professional networks, too, and they could one day help you make connections to new hires and other valuable contacts.
Make sure your star players are in the game
High-potential succession candidates in your organization should have consistent and frequent interaction with your consultant. Identify staff who have worked hard to motivate and inspire their colleagues and kept important initiatives on track. These are the people who will absorb the most from financial consultants and other interim and project professionals by collaborating closely with them throughout an initiative.
As the project comes to a close …
Set up an information download
Ask the consultant to share key learnings with your staff when the project begins to wind down. For instance, if you worked with a consultant to implement a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, that person could provide insights about the system and help staff members get up to speed on it. These efforts can also help your employees to adapt better to change.
Establish a mentoring program
Consultants are experts in their field, and there’s a good chance that they had a mentor at some point during their career. So, they might be keen to pay that experience forward. And a mentoring program, whether formal or informal, can be an effective way for expert consultants to transfer their critical knowledge to your staff and promote best practices.
Be strategic about the employees you include in mentorships, and specify what you want them to take away from the arrangement. For example, an up-and-coming financial executive could learn what it takes to lead the finance function from an interim CFO. Business systems analysts can gain leading-edge insights from a consultant with proficiency in multiple systems.
Schedule feedback sessions
Set clear milestones for team members assigned to work with or be mentored by your consultant. Make a point to meet regularly with the consultant and your full-time employees to be certain these goals are met. These progress check-ins will give you greater confidence that the intellectual capital the project professional brings to your organization will remain with your team long after the assignment ends.
Ask the consultant to share independent insights with you
One of the key benefits of working with consultants is tapping their independent insights. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to identify and catalyze the change an organization truly needs.
Consultants with a strong background in the finance function can assist CFOs and other finance leaders by taking an objective look and identifying issues that may have been missed before due to organizational blind spots. So, before consultants complete their assignments for your company, take the time to meet with them to gather their insights.
Always keep an eye toward the future
When working with consultants, don’t take a short-term or siloed view toward these engagements. You might want to tap a consultant’s expertise again someday, so it’s important to lay solid groundwork during the first assignment to support what might become an ongoing work relationship.
There is also the potential that the consultant could one day become a full-time member of your team. When you hire a talented and experienced interim professional who is already familiar with the expectations and unique culture of your firm, that person can start making valuable contributions to your business faster.
Looking to hire a consultant? Contact us for more information about our full range of interim management staffing, financial staffing and project consultant solutions.
This post was originally published in October 2014 and has been updated to reflect more current information.