10 Ways to Keep Your Consultants Happy

It’s not about the money, money, money.
We wanna see you happy, happy, happy.
We just wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag

Just so you know, I’m singing the above lines to the tune of Jessie J’s Price Tag. Because that’s the kind of completely uninhibited geek I am (in my head, of course).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMxX-QOV9tI]

Now, getting down to business, every consultant in the world is making my Jessie J-inspired claims to clients and to themselves (probably not singing them like I am, but still). And most of them are only partially lying.

Look – I would be lying if I said they don’t want the money. They want it and they need it. But now that they are working, that’s already taken care of. Once you enter the world of cognitive skills consultants, money does not motivate them to do better. Take a look at the video below to understand what motivates them.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc]

And the money? Well, the money is a wonderful outcome that lets them do everything they want to do, without having to worry about their money-dependant life chores.

When working with consultants, picking the right firm is paramount. They surely need to be capable of delivering what you need. However, getting the right firm is only one-fourth of the battle. The question is, how do you motivate them to be fully engaged and do better than the best of their capabilities?

A good client-consultant relationship is as much dependent on hiring a suitable consulting firm as it is on being a good client.

Why be good?

Isn’t is asking for a bit too much? After all, you as a client are paying for services rendered – shouldn’t that be enough? Yup, that works for jobs that requires mechanical things to be accomplished. However, that won’t work when you are outsourcing jobs that requires more creative and cognitive skills.

The real question is: how do you, as a client, make your consultants care about your work as much as you do? Okay, so you chose the right consulting firm to work with. Well done, but it isn’t over yet. The truth is, you need a good consulting firm and you need to be a good client. So, to make this very clear, and also because equations are simply lovely:

Good Consultant + Good Client = The. Best. Results!

There’s no two ways about it. People treat you only as well as you treat them. And if you treat them well, you get that back two-fold. Pretty solid logic, I think.

So what makes a good client and how does goodness really help you? Read on, my friend.

1. Trust them and show them that – authentically

Most creative consultants want to feel respected and trusted. Once you show them that you trust them, their ethical ego is at its peak and they tend to forget about the contracts in place. They care about the deliverable and making you successful.

2. Be truly interested in their growth 

As a client, you want your consultant to think about you. But don’t you think it’s natural to make them feel that you think about them, as well? There’s this little gem of a book called Karmic Management. The authors got it absolutely right when they talk about helping the people you work with grow as well. Though you have hired them to service you, part of this engagement requires that you service them. Isn’t that the true spirit of entrepreneurship anyway?

Think of someone who truly cares about your growth. Won’t you think about ways to try and help them however you can, even if that requires going out of your way a little? That’s exactly how consultants would reciprocate if you tried to help them grow.

3. There ain’t no place for mind reading

Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. Mind readers do not exist, much as we wish they did. Consultants need to understand everything about your business. They will ask questions, they may annoy you, but they are only trying to help (most of the time!). Be as open and honest with them as possible.

4. Stop saying, “We appreciate it.” Mean it! 

Those words have been so overused that they have lost their emotional value. When you truly want to appreciate, make sure you elaborate in words and deeds. How about shipping a box of beer or some baked goodies as a sign of that appreciation with a handwritten note? Now that truly communicates that you appreciated something. You could even do a book or a gift card or hard cash. Whatever suits your personality the best, while making sure the consulting team loves it, too.

5. Turning a deaf ear won’t help. Just listen

These consultants have been working for a long, long time. They have some past experience that you might not have. So hear them out. Make their voice feel heard. If you like what they say, take their advice. If not, scrap it. Either way, give them a good reason. A good consultant is also a good listener, as well. But a fresh perspective on the problem you are trying to solve sometimes opens up a new line of thinking.

6. Understand that minimalism requires work

When a consultant recommends cutting scope, they might not be trying to cut efforts. They might be saying that for a reason. A good consultant will always have a good reason. A better consultant would even reduce the invoice price if the work has actually reduced. It once again comes down to trusting them. Trust them. Cognitive consultants have to be treated differently than a call centre team you might outsource.

7. Keep them engaged in your work, not in payment collection

Pay on time or a little before. This keeps consultants engaged on your problem, not worrying about cash flow.

8. Work with people, not with a company

You hired the firm. They assembled a team of x people for your project. Now you’re no longer working with the firm; you’re actually working with those people. The word people is of utmost important here. Take the time to know them better. Make good friends with them. See if you could help the individuals. Sometimes it’s just giving them advice about personal matters. Sometimes you could give a little cash bonus to the team when you see exceptional work delivered mid-way. However, ensure it comes out as appreciation and not as reward. The reward theory does not work with cognitive consultants.

9. Don’t make it about deadlines. Make it about work

We all have deadlines that we face everyday. We all despise them with an inexplicable passion and, yet, we all need them. There’s nothing wrong with deadlines, as long as they do have a reason. An upcoming deadline boosts productivity, in that everyone bound by it is required to put in some extra effort to get the job done. When possible, though, make the deadlines a bit more flexible and make it clear that they can extend the deadline to get it done right! You don’t want them to cut corners to deliver fast.

10. Don’t aim for a one-night stand

See the consulting firm as an extension of your team. If it’s ongoing work, don’t hire them with the idea that eventually you’ll build your team and fire them. You might want to stay open for a long-term relationship as long as it’s economical and you are getting good work done. The consulting firm always eyes for a long-time commitment. They love it. If you give them that, they are sure to walk extra miles anyway.

So there you have it. Being a good client isn’t just a consultant’s dream. It can be incredibly beneficial to the client, too. As professionals, a consulting firm is intent on doing its best for every client. As human beings, though, it’s impossible to expect that people switch off their humanness. Let me leave you with this: we are all willing to go the extra mile for the people who value us for everything that we are, and everything that we hope to be.

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Written by:
Jinesh Parekh is the CEO of a Ruby on Rails consulting boutique, Idyllic. Idyllic focusses on building web and mobile solutions led by user experience design that solves real business problems. You can reach out to Jinesh at jparekh [at] idyllic [dot] co.
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