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Successful businesses know how effective streamlining and continually improving their processes can be. Safeguarding your bottom line in an ever-changing market requires specialized expertise. It’s no surprise that many organizations are putting more focus on their internal workings instead of focusing solely on output and sales. Improving your processes is no easy feat, and you’re probably already considering hiring outside help, but how do you choose a process improvement consultant for your business?
I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.Georg C. Lichtenberg
Choosing a process improvement consultant for your business is no easy task when you look at it from a risk versus reward point of view. How much will they cost? Do you hire a lone wolf or do you go with a firm? What kind of improvements can you expect? Will you get a good ROI from the consultant or firm, and how will it affect your company’s ROI in general? All these questions can be answered by a consultant, but only if you choose a process improvement consultant that’s right for your organization.
Generally speaking, choosing a process improvement consultant is similar to hiring any other employee. If you really think about it, whomever the process consultant is, they need to make a significant contribution to your business the same way your employees do. Your process consultant must fulfill the same criteria as anyone else: competency, cost, and suitability.
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Anyway ... sorry for the interruption! Let's resume the rest of the article.
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Identifying Competency In Choosing a Process Improvement Consultant
Choosing a process improvement consultant begins with identifying their competency. The first thing you’ll want to review is their track record. Any process improvement consultant worth their salt will have quantifiable proof of what they have done for other businesses. For you, the business owner, looking at before and after snapshots of previous contracts should be the first item on your hiring checklist. Do they come to you with a proven track record or is the process improvement consultant full of bluster, promises, and winks?
You’ll likely have a natural inclination to choose a process improvement consultant with direct experience in your industry or niche, which is ideal but can also severely diminish the candidate pool. More than that, using industry experience as the sole requisite to choose your process improvement consultant is unnecessary. You have an entire company full of people who understand the minute details of your niche already, so there’s little need to choose a consultant on that metric alone. Your consultant’s primary purpose is to help your team learn how to fix and continuously improve, the processes you already have in place.
Some experience in the processes your industry uses is important though. You wouldn’t want to choose a process improvement consultant with a background finance where high-volume and low-variability transactions are the norms if you run an ad agency. You’d want to choose a process improvement consultant with experience in high-variabilities and flexible prioritization experience.
Cost Versus Reward
Let’s get this out of the way right now – choosing a process improvement consultant based solely on the lowest rate you can find is a mistake you’ll pay for, short and long-term. You’re looking for an expert, and experts cost money. It’s better to look at choosing your process consultant based on his or her value and ROI.
You’ll have to decide if you want to hire a lone-wolf or go with a firm. For the lone operator, you can expect their rate to be the equivalent of a high-end IT consultant. Consulting firms, on the other hand, will be more expensive but you might have an easier time justifying the expense to C-level managers or stockholders.
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Anyway ... we'll continue from where we left off above.
Whichever option you choose, ask for an estimated return on investment. Although the estimate will be more about precision than accuracy, you’ll get a good idea what the expense will be rather than opening yourself up to essentially writing a blank check. Either way, remember to take into consideration that they will need to be onsite for weeks before you balk at the cost. It’s also important to keep in mind the intangible benefits you’ll receive such as improved morale and improved customer satisfaction.
While some consultants will quote you an hourly rate, try to choose a process improvement consultant offering a fixed rate. You’ll have a better idea what your cost will be, and it also means the consultant is willing to bear some of the risks, limiting yours.
Suitability for Your Organizational Culture
One size fits all doesn’t work. Just like a good suit, choose a process improvement consultant that fits. Look for consultants who know how to adapt to your organization’s culture. Avoid choosing process improvement consultants who are stalwart about their approach to improving your processes. For example, a Six Sigma consultant who is overly confident that their method of improvement works every time, all the time, probably won’t be a good fit for you.
The human factor is not to be overlooked. Choose a process improvement consultant who has strong soft skills. You’ll be naturally inclined to hire someone with superb technical skills, but unless they have soft skills they’re likely to be a waste of time and money, to say nothing of compromising morale. The most successful process improvement consultants on the planet will tell you that their secret recipe consists of 90% communication and only 10% knowledge. They will be skilled listeners who know how to ask the right questions.
You’re looking for an educator rather than an expert in your field, so avoid choosing a process improvement consultant who has a high-priest complex. Of course, you want to choose a process improvement consultant with justifiable pride in their experience and knowledge, just not one with a huge ego to go with it. Choose a process improvement consultant who will pass on their knowledge, not just make themselves appear indispensable. Communication is key, and you want your employees to learn from your consultant so they can continue his or her work long after they’re gone.
On Choosing A Process Improvement Consultant
Humility, ironically, is a personality trait to look for when you choose a great improvement consultant. A competent consultant will express doubts and concerns about possible outcomes of the consulting contract if they are at all realistic and honest. Successful consultants don’t always know what the risks are, or how to avoid them. They will openly express their need to rely on your business experience and expertise to get the job done.