Ensuring Consulting Engagements Deliver Exceptional Value

Today I’m going to touch on the sensitive topic of consultants…

When you have a problem or situation outside your organization’s internal capabilities, a consultant can be brought in to help address it. In the context of ERM, this can include everything from starting a new program, re-starting a failed program, presenting a summary of top risks to the board, and more.

Now when you begin an engagement with a consultant, you expect them to be able to address your problem or otherwise provide a solution that is sustainable and manageable for you, your team, and the organization as a whole. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be asking for assistance, right?!

Furthermore, you expect this to be done at a price that won’t break the bank…

Too often, what unfortunately happens is that instead of meeting this expectation, the consultant’s desire to make money comes first and foremost. They seem to be more like this infamous character from Disney’s adaption of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol instead of someone interested in helping organizations solve challenges.


Since becoming an ERM consultant three years ago, I have had numerous conversations with ERM professionals who explain how a prior consultant(s) left the organization with a process or final product that was so complicated or overwhelming that it ended up not being useful at all.

In short, they ended up with lots of pretty presentation binders collecting dust on the bookshelf, as well as the same problems or, worse, an even bigger hole.

A large sum of money, tens of thousands in some cases, has been spent with very little to show for it.

Instead of getting answers to questions, the bad engagement leaves you with more questions and skepticism, especially with executives wondering how ERM can help the organization achieve its goals.

What are your options when results from a consulting engagement are more harmful than helpful?

If you experience an unfortunate outcome like this from a consulting engagement, three possible options for how to proceed include:

1.    You can try and make it work by pushing or forcing the process/outcome onto the organization.

This is much like trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole. This of course leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and can put you in an even more difficult spot with executives. 

2.   Set the process aside, consider it a lesson learned, and start over.

This option can be difficult to do, as people have long memories about those long discussions with the consultant and continually ask “what ever happened?” when you talk with them.

3.   Develop a game plan to re-engage with a [different] consultant.

Now that you know a particular solution is not a good fit, you have a better idea of expectations and desired outcome. You also know what questions to ask the consultant to better understand if a consultant is a good fit for your project.

Of course, the best scenario is for your consulting engagement to solve the problem you’re struggling with the first time.

In his book The Executive’s Guide to Consultants, author David Fields explains:

Consultants will naturally depict your world in a way that plays to their own strengths, and their take on the best course of action for you also invariably benefits them.

3 Signs of a Bad Consultant…before you sign the contract

There are two ways to tell that a consultant may not deliver the value you’re expecting is how they approach the initial conversations with you.

Sign #1:  Do they keep the conversation focused on your situation and what you want? Or is the conversation focused on them?

Sign #2:  Do they talk more about their qualifications and why you should choose them instead of learning about your specific challenge?

Before you reach out a consultant, take the time to get a solid understanding of:

  • The problem or situation
  • Desired result from the engagement
  • Indicators of success for achieving the desired result
  • Why you need a consultant and how a consultant can help
  • How soon you need a resolution
  • How much you are willing to spend
  • Any constraints or challenges to success (people, time, money)

Having information like this in hand and understanding warning signs will go a long way toward avoiding the disappointment of a failed consulting engagement.

Sign #3:  Does they ask you about those above areas as part of the initial discussions? Or do they focus on the steps and process of what they will be doing as part of the work?

To learn more, I highly recommend The Executive’s Guide to Consultants as a great resource for understanding the right way to approach potential consulting engagements. Gain critical insight to finding the right consultant, negotiating fees, structuring a contract, and most of all, ensuring you see lasting results from your investment.

Although this book is written for a general business audience, specifically executives, ERM professionals will benefit from reading it too as it can help ensure any consulting engagements deliver value.

For more, visit Are Internal Risk Professionals Treated Differently than External Consultants?

Have you ever been disappointed with the results from a consulting engagement?  How did executives or your leadership react?

This can be a thorny topic, but it needs addressing because too many organizations spend huge sums of money just to be disappointed with the results, hurting them and their organization.

Please feel free to share your thoughts below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

And if your organization has a specific ERM challenge that it is struggling to address, do not hesitate to reach out to me to discuss your specific situation and ways to address it.

Featured image courtesy of Sarah McCutcheon via Unsplash.com

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Meet Carol Williams, SDS Founder & Lead Strategist

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This blog was launched to provide strategy and risk practitioners with a go-to resource to better guide their efforts within their companies. Thank you for bringing me and my team along to be part of your journey towards better risk management, strategic planning and execution, and overall decision-making. Happy reading!

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