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Consulting Etiquette

How to treat your independent consultant for optimum results

Consulting Etiquette

The news of Bill Velardo’s sudden death, which I heard about from a client, was quite unnerving. Bill’s former employer, Mohegan Sun, was one of my biggest clients a few years ago. I did not know Bill very well—he headed the Mohegan Tribal Authority, and we met only a few times during my consultancy with the company. What I do remember is his generosity in making his own office available to me when I first went to Mohegan Sun on their CRM consulting project.

Since most casino operators always have a consultant or two on the property, I offer my impressions on how (not) to treat your consultant. Bear in mind that I am not referring to consultants from large management, accounting or IT companies. They work on a different, mostly template-based model. I am talking about independent consultants such as myself, who are mostly on client premises from the conception of a project to its very conclusion.

Creating an Image
Consultants usually work across several levels within the casino organization. Since my consulting deals with customer relationship management, customer service and marketing issues, I interact at all service levels, from the dealer and the pit boss to the CEO/CIO. Under such a scenario, the prescience of my observations and recommendations invariably depends on the buy-in, inputs and cooperation I receive from client employees at every level.

We all know that given the current turbulent environment, employees at all levels are very busy. The time they make available for the consultant very much depends on how the consultant is positioned within the company by the project sponsor.

If you want to maximize your return on the fees you paid the consultant for his or her expertise, you have to ensure that you portray your consultant within your organization as an indispensable expert whom you have been lucky to hire. Position your consultants as superstars, and you will find your staff wanting to cooperate in earnest with the “outsider.”

According VIP treatment to your consultant also boosts the consultant’s morale. Buttress the expert’s ego a bit, and you will find that he or she is often the last one to leave their office when almost everyone within the company has already called it a day. Treat the consultant like a demigod and they will often produce miraculous results.

Here are seven specifics of consultant etiquette you might want to ensure.

  1. Circulate a favorably worded bio of the consultant to relevant employees before the consultant arrives on premises. If the consultant has a half-decent website, provide your employees with a link.
  2. If the consultant happens to be from out of town, make sure you have a limousine waiting when he or she lands in your town. Most consultants demand business-class or first-class airfare, so the limo is a very small marginal cost.
  3. If your consultant is lodging at your property, provide him or her with superior accommodation. It costs little to your property, but buys a lot of goodwill.
  4. Provide your consultant with the best office space available. If an office facility befitting the consultant’s stature is not immediately available, do some short-term juggling. Many employees within your company will assess the worth of a consultant based on the symbols of power that you as the sponsor bestow upon the consultant.
  5. Never challenge the consultant’s competence or modus operandi in a meeting attended by your subordinates. You as the sponsor have hired the outside individual for a specific reason: to get a job done for which in-house expertise is lacking. Demeaning your consultant in front of your subordinates is a sure-fire death knell to any possibility of cooperation with this outsider. If you have differences of opinion on issues or processes, express them behind closed doors one-on-one with the consultant.
  6. Be tough on deliverables but soft on negotiations. Remember, a couple of years from now, no one, not even you, will recall how much a consultant charged your company. But if the consultant fails, and you happen to be the fall guy, the experience will be irrevocably etched in your psyche. Quibbling on small amounts or expenses only demonstrates your pettiness.
  7. Personally make time for the consultant. People around you don’t just take their cues from your words; they watch your behavior more closely than you think. Their attention to the consultant will be partly determined by how much time you personally devote both to the consultant and to the specific assignment at hand.

My Inspiration
After having acted in the consulting space for years, why do I suddenly write about this? There are two reasons. The first is Bill’s tragic demise, which brought to surface the memory of his generosity. The second reason was an experience I had consulting not too long ago. I was made to sit in a cubicle with entry-level managers less than half my age throughout this assignment spanning several weeks. The sponsor would call a meeting of all stakeholders for this project, ask me to chair, and then interrupt me every step of the way. Worst of all, I was treated more like an employee than an invited expert hired to accomplish a task no one within the organization was capable of undertaking. Needless to say, my morale in the course of this assignment was a bit below par. This recent experience elevated my regard for Bill even more.

Rest in peace, Bill. You will always remain in my thoughts, and no doubt in the memories of countless others.

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