Friday, August 7, 2015

Winning Comparative Advantage

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Remember this old joke? “We’re from the government and we’re here to help!” This assertion is usually followed by incredulous guffaws. Similarly, certain circles of association executives are amused by any such assertion about the helpfulness of consultants. Perhaps this is due to a swaggering belief that any association executive worth his or her salt should be able to manage things on their own; or perhaps they are
like Mark Twain’s cat that once landed on a hot stove and refused to go near stoves ever since—hot or cold.

The reality is that the fastest growing, most innovative and most influential associations in the world are the most prolific users of consulting services. There is in fact a direct correlation here. Why?

Consultants provide the following:
 Expertise—maybe not on a continued basis--but that might be critically important to you at this point in your organization’s growth;
 Instant professional resources to meet a surging need or to take advantage of immediate opportunities in a new direction or a new market;
 The ability to tap into and to learn from the experience of other organizations that have faced similar challenges or opportunities through the experience of consultants who have served multiple clients in your field;
 The ability to have a frank assessment of your situation—to learn if the “emperor has no clothes” when you suspect you may be surrounded by self interested flatterers; and
 The third party credibility that comes from experts outside of your organization who have helped you put in place or who have audited and endorsed what you are trying to do.

The best managers know and understand how to use these facts to their advantage. But, it is true, deriving the full benefit of consulting services implies you know how. Not every thoroughbred can win a race--a lot depends on who is in the saddle. Here are the basics:
 Plan for using consultants based on where you can foresee needs. Research typical costs and include them in your annual budget.
 Develop RFPs that clearly state what you are trying to achieve, within what time and using what resources.
 Solicit proposals from consultants who are known to be reputable in the field.
 Be prepared to give the consultants the time and attention they will need to do their job effectively.
 The more vital the issues are to your organization, the more the chief executive officer needs to be involved. Certain projects cannot be delegated.

As this recession has proven, the world has become an increasingly competitive place for everyone; and using consulting resources effectively has become a critical part of winning managers’ strategies. Boards of Directors know this. In this regard, there is no more uncomfortable situation to be in than for a consultant to be hired at Board request in which they have been told the Executive Director is part of the problem.

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