You may already have an effective way of hiring outside support people (consultants/contractors), but for those who don’t, or want to rethink their approach, here are a few quick thoughts…
1. Know what you want to achieve
What are the outcomes/results you want from the work? And what are the deliverables/outputs (if any — e.g. reports, designs, systems, policies, etc.)? Name both your desired outcomes and outputs as clearly as possible.
(It’s also fine to share a description of the situation and ask them to help you work out what comes next — this approach is fine if you’re not facing resource constraints, it just means the quotation will be a little less exact.)
2. Be clear on your time frame — and whether or not you have any flexibility around it
The person you’d like to work with might not be available on the dates you’d prefer… So, if there’s no space to negotiate timing, you might have to spend more time shopping around alternative support. (Many consultants book up 3- 6 months in advance, though most allow for some gaps to take up new opportunities.)
3. Know what you can afford
And be upfront about it if your budget is on the low side. Some consulting firms work with set, non-negotiable rates, but most freelancers and smaller firms are willing (within reason) to negotiate around fees if the work interests them and they want to build a relationship with you. This is especially true if the work is chunky – i.e. more than a few weeks or months.
4. Share your brief in writing
This might be in the form of Terms of Reference, or if you’re addressing your request to one consultant (to begin with), in an email.
Ask for a quotation or proposal in response. There is value in competitive processes, and for larger pieces of work, your procurement policy may require multiple quotes. But do bear in mind that you’re not buying copier paper here! You’re starting an important professional relationship, so this has more in common with choosing a coach or a therapist than it does with purchasing office supplies. Make sure that your policies are honored — and try not to let them prevent you from working with someone who connects well to you and to your system’s needs. (N.B. Please don’t entirely outsource the procurement of OD and change management support to your procurement department. This is not an administrative choice – it has much wider implications than the obvious financial ones.)
5. Talk about it — face-to-face, on the phone, or on Skype
Allow a little time for this conversation 20-30 minutes will probably be enough. This will give you an opportunity to see if they, and their approach to the work, resonates with you. Check that they’re someone who you want to work with — and trust your gut on this: if it feels wrong, it probably will be. Feel free to ask for references, proof of qualifications, samples of work — they should be happy to provide these or to refer you to relevant web links and past clients.
6. Make a decision
7. Engage in formal contracting
Including: deliverables, outcomes, time frames, fees and expenses, intellectual property, liability, penalties, etc.
A lot of the success (and much of the difficulty) of consulting assignments can be traced back to the briefing and contracting process — the beginning of the relationships… Spending time on beginning well makes it far more likely that the relationship will be fruitful, and the final result, of real value.