THE BLOG
11/25/2013 03:13 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Hiring Consultants

At some point in the life of your organization, it will be suggested that you hire a consultant. Your board will be divided into the people who feel you need help -- and maybe someone from the outside is a good idea -- and the people who are against it. Those opposed are often people who have worked for large corporations and have a sense of how consultants work. There is no doubt that if the phrase: "If you can't do, teach," works for some people, then the phrase: "If you don't want to work, then talk at people who are working," can be true as well.

In an ideal world, a consultant would work like a running coach or a marriage therapist. Someone from the outside can sometimes see more clearly what needs to change. There are good consultants and bad ones, but the important idea to start with is: Are you ready for a consultant?

You need several elements in place before you start a consultancy. They are as follows:

1. You need to have your bookkeeping and accounts in order. I wouldn't suggest going through a consultancy unless you've had a successful audit, or at least a financial review, and have had the same bookkeeper for at least a year, so that they can work effectively with the consultant. You don't want to be doing all the financial work yourself.

2. Do not expect your development program to improve. If you have a dream that your consultant will also be a kind of Rain Man, you're bound to be disappointed. If you want your development program to get better, then hire better development personnel. Often people are disappointed in their consultant because they had false expectations of what would happen.

3. The board should be the key relationship that will change during your consultancy. But that isn't going to happen unless you have the board in place that you already want. If your board is made of eight people, and it really should be fifteen, those eight are going to feel flogged, and you are going to wish you had a full board to learn from the experience of working with the consultant.

4. The most important element to remember is this: Solve the problems you already know how to solve. Get your finances in order, get your board in order, have your key personnel in order. The example I give is this: I'm training currently for a marathon, and I'm taking it pretty seriously, running sixty miles per week. Friends say to me: "Why don't you hire a running coach? Wouldn't one be able to give you some valuable advice on how to run better?" The answer is no, I'm not going to hire a coach, because if I did, he/she would spend the entire three months of training telling me one fact that I already know: If I lose some weight, I would be a much better runner. My problem isn't that I think that's a lie, I know it's true -- and that's exactly why I don't want to pay someone to tell me something that I already know.

If I'm hiring a consultant for my organization, and consultants are extremely expensive, I want to find out new information. Organizations do that all the time, though. They sign up for a consultancy, even though they know they have flaws in their systems. What happens when you go into a consultancy without your systems in place, is that the consultant, if they're any good, will spend the entire time telling you something you already know. You'll end up feeling both sad and exhausted by the experience.

5. Consultants can change the way you think, and can certainly change your relationship with the board. If you decide to hire someone, make sure he or she comes highly recommended, is a good listener, wants to do a good job for you, doesn't talk down to you, and make sure your systems are in place before you start. You might feel like you've been through the ringer, but if you do, remember this, clothing needs to go through the ringer because that's how we get clean clothes -- and clean clothes are a good thing.