Advice and Guidance on the use of Consultants




This section is to provide a foundation to help the client and the consultant achieve the most successful outcome for both parties. If you are considering hiring a consultant or bringing in external expertise or resources please do check our listings for BC consultants and organisations offering services HERE.

Section Overview

Companies and organisations usually engage consultants to fill a ‘skills gap’ related to a specific project that the client either has no resource for or experience of. With emerging technologies or new industry developments, such as those found in the BC sector consultants are often very beneficial in kick-starting the programme and/or providing insight that achieves better results and value from the programme. Consultants usually have extensive experience which is very beneficial to the client and they may have specific industry knowledge which can help develop ‘compliant’ plans more swiftly than would be otherwise possible, but the client must remember that they do not usually have in-depth knowledge of the organisation they are working for. In the field of BC this means that for the consultant to be really effective they must be properly supported by those in the organisation with the specific knowledge of procedures, practices and other matters that are needed to deliver the expected programme outcomes.

In the following sections we discuss the key points you should consider when selecting consultants and both their management and expectations you should have of the role.

Selecting the right expert for your needs is the key to successful programme outcomes and one should always take time to meet with a number before finally selecting your partner. Be reasonable in your expectations and ensure that an accurate table of costs is agreed. Do check references carefully and look to see how the consultants experience maps onto your organisations needs. Ensure that any detailed requirements you may have, such as industry specific Regulations or Legislation are clearly defined and remember that regular management updates on progress and issues can prevent potential awkward mistakes from developing.

We hope that you find the following useful and remember that we are here to help. If you are a consultant and would like to be listed on our Consultants signpost please do call us on +44 (0) 208 993 1599.

There would seem to be an increasing use of consultants, of various disciplines, particularly in small and medium enterprises where a full-time member of staff can neither be spared nor be recruited for a specific project. Furthermore,. the trend towards "lean" management styles, the reduction in the number of management levels within a business, the continuing need to improve efficiency and the rapid pace of technological development mean that companies often need to use specialised experts to do that which is necessary to remain cost-effective and competitive.

The ever present need for enterprises to develop existing resources and to introduce new ones while holding-down costs and remaining competitive, indicate that the employment of consultants will certainly continue in the future and, indeed, is most likely to increase. Consultants can thus be broadly grouped into two categories; those who are project orientated - for example, to advise on the selection of a new piece of equipment, e.g. IT, and to introduce it into service and those who are management orientated - for example, to advise management on a policy for Business Continuity and to oversee the implementation and rehearsing of a plan.

2. AIM

The aim of this paper is to help managers to identify the need for consultants; to offer guide-lines for their selection, recruitment and management; and to indicate how the relationship between manager and consultant can be beneficial.


A consultant, working either alone on his own behalf or one of many working for a specialist company, offers skills and expertise not available in the host company. In the latter scenario there could be a senior consultant and a number of more junior consultants or analysts working on a project.


The short answer is "whenever a management gap needs covering". It might be thought that with competent and well-trained managers no gap should arise, and in times past that could have been true. But in these days of "lean" management concentrating on core objectives, a gap can arise for a variety of reasons including (and not listed in order of priority): -

a) Cover for an absent manager - perhaps on a long management course.

b) Pressure from owners, shareholders or bankers for a change in strategy and/or new management competency in order to restore profitability or profit growth.

c) To challenge "corporate habit" to ensure that it continues to be relevant; or to propose remedies where it is not.

d) Company managers and staff are already fully engaged and have no capacity for additional tasks.

e) Lack of a specialist skill within the company - and the lack can be for technical or managerial projects - which it would be uneconomic to remedy by the permanent employment of someone with that skill.

f) The task is identified as being short-term, e.g. training on new equipment or in new processes for product development.

Consultants may also be needed for other reasons; such as to help in the introduction of a management change, perhaps arising from a change in environmental legislation or to increase the emphasis on quality assurance. They may also be needed in company rescue operations. In other words, the employment of consultants should be considered as lone input, among many and not exclusively, to enable enterprises to manage change economically and efficiently in an ever more rapidly evolving business environment.

The timing of the decision to engage a consultant requires nice judgement. It should be taken before a problem reaches critical proportions threatening the company's existence, out not so early as to preclude an "in house" solution at less cost. The effect on staff morale of hiring a consultant must also be considered - it could be interpreted as showing a loss of confidence in the capability and competence of the staff - and the decision to hire should be explained with understanding even if it has been reached after staff consultation. Staff will be particularly concerned if they feel that their jobs, status or pay are threatened.


Management will often need the help of a consultant to define the exact problem and to propose a specific solution. It is, however, important that management retains control and recognises that the consultant is offering advice not direction

Having decided that a consultant is needed because the project or task can most effectively, efficiently and economically be achieved by using a consultant, the first step is to define the desired objective clearly, precisely and succinctly. At one end of the spectrum this would be done at Board or proprietor level should the task be of strategic importance - for example, to examine the company's overall management and make recommendations. At the spectrum's other end the consultant's role in training staff to operate new systems would be defined by the manager with responsibility for that area. Irrespective of the level at which they are defined, ill-defined objectives expressed in general terms without precision will produce poor results and be a fruitful source of misunderstandings and disagreements. There always must be clear definition of the "deliverables" required from the consultant. Although these may be modified during initial discussion with the consultant, it is essential that he delivers what the company wants and not his interpretation of their needs.

Precision about the milestones to be achieved during the consultant's work, 'its duration and cost are unlikely to be possible before discussions with the consultant. However, prior to such discussions the company should have some "feel" for the required milestones so that negotiations are conducted to further the company's interests rather than those of the consultant.


First a "health warning" - anyone can have stationery and business cards printed showing that he purports to be a "consultant". So caveat emptor - establish essential criteria to match the man/consultancy with the task and be prepared to probe the references and qualifications presented. Your time and money will be wasted if a consultant is engaged who subsequently proves to be inadequate.

That said, perhaps the most important factor is that you and your colleagues who will be working closely with him (or the consultancy) must feel comfortable with them - that the "chemistry" is right. On the other hand, one should avoid taking the line of least resistance by hiring someone already known in another context. The company needs the best available at the price it can afford.

A check list of characteristics desired in a consultant should at least include:-

a) Qualifications - must be relevant to the task,

b) Experience - preferably in identical or nearly identical tasks,

c) Personality - will he be acceptable to the workforce or will he antagonise them?

d) Presentational skills - written and oral,

e) Financial Integrity - does he hold professional indemnity insurance?

These are generally self-evident and should easily be checked by meeting the consultant, and by reference to previous clients, consultant/trade associations and professional institutes. There may, however, be some difficulty over professional indemnity insurance which is becoming more important in these days of increasing litigation for negligence, product liability, non-performance of contracts and so on. As few consultants will have the personal means to fight a legal battle on their own, insurance is needed and the cost of this, plus the need to draw a contract, may discourage both consultant and potential client. A company which engages a consultant lacking insurance and without a contract must therefore be aware of the risks which are being taken in the event of the consultant's work giving rise to a claim against the company. Nevertheless, do not eliminate a consultant solely because he has no professional indemnity insurance. Track record and qualifications for the proposed task are of cardinal importance

Potential consultants or consultancies can be identified in several ways: personal recommendation by a trusted and respected colleague is perhaps the best, although one needs to be aware of the pitfalls inherent in using the "Old Boy" network. Professional institutes and trade or consultant associations are other sources. If these do not produce acceptable candidates, advertising in trade and professional magazines and the wider press may he necessary. -Using the task definition and a check list of essential and desirable characteristics, potential consultants can then be identified and approached to determine if they are interested in the work and their availability.

As with any other purchasing function, at least three consultants should be invited to make a presentation and/or a submission describing their approach to the task and give a quotation or estimate, Whichever route is chosen, insist on meeting the actual individual who will be responsible for the assignment - beware of consultant companies using a senior consultant to win the work and who is never seen again! The corporate experience, data banks and case histories held within consultant companies can be very useful, but are worthless if the individual consultant cannot access and use the data., so check this point closely. Presentations should be followed by a formal proposal, as should a written submission if not already included. The proposal must cover the ground required, clearly state what is required from the client, identify milestones, review points and interim reports during the work, if appropriate, and define the result - the deliverables. The price and terms of payment, including any progress payments and their triggers, must be set out.

A consultant can now be selected and a contract drawn based on the consultant's written proposal and incorporating any specific matters required by the client, such as ownership of reports, confidentiality, intellectual property rights, indemnity insurance, provision of facilities. etc. Many consultants will produce their own draft contracts and these must be closely studied - by a lawyer if necessary - to ensure that they do indeed meet the company's objectives and not merely those of the consultant. A written contract, however brief, is essential as verbal agreements will inevitably lead to misunderstandings, dissatisfaction and allegations of non-performance from both parties.


Perhaps the over-riding requirement is the establishment of a fruitful relationship of mutual trust with your consultant. This may -already exist if the consultant has previously either worked as an employee of the company or has previously completed consultancy work for you. If this is not the case, then the relationship will have started to develop during the selection phase - which emphasises the importance of the right "chemistry" becoming evident during the presentation and the exploratory and contractual meetings.

Terms of reference, milestones and expenditure will have already been agreed and progress against these benchmarks should be monitored with the consultant at short informal weekly meetings. These will enable management to keep in touch with progress and should enable potential crises to be identified in time for them to be defused. Nevertheless, consultants should have easy access to management in case of an unforeseen emergency arising. Formal regular reporting and consultations will be necessary at senior level and for a major project reports from lower operating levels will also be required. The important point is that the level and scale of reporting must be commensurate with the level and scale of the project. A project concerned with the introduction of new equipment will call for little beyond brief progress and completion reports while one dealing with business reengineering, major management or cultural changes will need much more. All must be "on record". In both situations the contract should end with the delivery of a final report which records that all the task objectives have been achieved do not accept anything less.

All that said, the temptation to economise by managing the project oneself must be avoided. Project management is a separate and specialised function requiring adequate funding. Divided or opaque responsibility will certainly not lead to a timely and cost effective outcome.

Although some follow-up or monitoring work may be needed, for example to ensure the implementation of recommendations, this should be kept in-house as much as possible. Do not allow a consultant to talk you into more work without going through another round of task identification and definition, consultant selection and a new contract. Good consultants get out when the work is done!


Although the consultant's perspective is very largely a mirror image of the client's, he too will have a cheek list - written or in his mind to help him determine whether to accept or decline the work. Points which he will consider include: -

a) The client's general attitude; does he seem business-like and co-operative?

b) Does the client have clear aims and objectives; or just general aims and an expectation that I will provide the objectives.

c) Will the client take any necessary unpalatable action (e g management changes/redundancies) himself, or is he looking to shift the responsibility to my shoulders?

d) Is the event/consultant "chemistry" right? Is the whole board of directors supportive of the proposal, or just a faction? If the latter, who will prevail? What are the feelings of middle management and the work force about the decision to hire a consultant; will they be for or against or passive?

f) Can the client afford me ? Is the company financially sound and able to pay as agreed and on time?

The consultant's overall aim will be to have a delighted client and a good reference. To this end he will wish to be assured that should problems arise during the work, they will be dealt with promptly and resolved to mutual satisfaction. For his part, he will not conceal problems from the client nor "fudge" them. Consultants cannot afford to do unpaid work. Doubts about a client's financial integrity may be allayed by a weekly account and weekly payments. This will also give some protection against an accusation of criminal preference should the client fail.


Although these guidelines are written largely from the perspective of selecting and engaging a "stand alone" consultant, the general principles are equally applicable when selecting and engaging a consultancy.

Conclusions may be summarised thus:-

* Be sure you need a consultant;

* Know what you want to achieve;

* Define the task precisely, clearly and succinctly;

* Select and appoint the best you can afford;

* Insist on a written contract;

* Manage the consultant to achieve your aims;

* Don't let go until you have what you want;

* New or extended assignments require the same procedures of definition, selection, contract, etc.

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This advice reproduced with permission of the Chartered Management Institute