How you know it’s time to hire an Interim Consultant

…It’s 6pm on a Friday and you are still in the office with a million other places you’d rather be…you’ve got project overload, an over-stretched team and an increasingly limited budget.  Sound familiar?

You have a very limited number of options at this point (and I don’t just mean retiring to the pub!):

  • You don’t have the budget or approval to hire a permanent employee;
  • Engaging a major consulting firm would also annihilate an already overstretched budget;
  • So that leaves a choice between piling more onto your existing team or exploring the benefits of an independent interim consultant.

How do you know whether to muddle through and manage within the existing team, or hire an interim consultant?  In this article, I will outline how you can identify when the time is right to hire an interim consultant and why an interim consultant may be the optimum solution for you or your business.

Signs that its time

I’ve heard it said on the consulting grapevine, “Clients only use consultants when it gets embarrassing that something has not been done!”.  As amusing an anecdote as this may be, the real signs that you should consider using an interim consultant are when time is short, when budgets are tight and when you are aware you need external expertise to solve a particular problem or improve your business.

I asked our B2E Business Development Director George Elkington his thoughts on this and he explained, “Clients usually choose to deploy transformation consultants when they want to improve process, structure, culture, people and or technology within their business”.

So, in essence, people choose to use interim consultants when they want to:

  • maintain control of both the outcome of and the approach to the project
  • achieve best value for money
  • gain access to the largest pool of available talent
  • avoid the pitfalls of a “hidden agenda” that can arise with alternative resourcing approaches.

The age-old question – consulting firms or independent interim consultants?

Major consulting firms charge a large premium for their services.  They harvest the cream of the graduate population, provide excellent training, have genuine global reach, and proven methodologies.  But, you can expect highly leveraged teams with junior staff carrying the brunt of delivery, and a rigid adherence to their way of working.  In turn, niche consultancies also charge a premium for their services and can bring genuine point expertise to bear.  But, the “real experts” are in high demand and may not be able to devote as much time as you would like, and, by their very nature the point expertise they bring may not always span the full breadth of your requirements.

Both of the above will factor in to their pricing model the indirect overheads of running their organisations and the direct costs of their temporarily unassigned consultants.  These factors alone can double the costs of their consultants even before any margin is applied to the price.

Networked consulting organisations (like B2E Consulting) – have much in common with both major and niche consultancies.  Many of the consultants in the networks are former employees of the major consulting firms, and so are also the cream of their graduate crop, and they too received the same excellent training.  But, for them the climb to partner and the evolution of their role away from client delivery has lost its appeal, so they prefer to practice the consulting skills they have developed (away from the politics!). The commercial model through which they go to market offers a far more compelling proposition to companies, as they have virtually eliminated overheads and pay nothing for unassigned time.

Independent consultants have varying backgrounds and are almost invariably available at a much lower price. And, if all you need are skilled practitioners to strengthen your team, then the carefully selected independent consultant may be exactly what you need.  The good ones are highly skilled, easy to work with, focused, and will work hard for you, but be aware good teams rarely form naturally without some unifying element.

The 5 key benefits of an Interim Consultant

There are 5 major benefits of using an interim consultant over embarking on a branded consulting engagement:

  1. Speed – Interim consultants can typically start within days and create an immediate impact.  They are very adaptable and experienced in immersing themselves in a new organisation straight away and working at speed, meaning you’ll start to see progress almost immediately.
  2. Experts/ Knowledge Transfer – Independent consultants can bring true SME (subject matter expert) knowledge.  They tend to be experts in their field and are great for filling skills gaps in an existing project team or function.  They will ensure that a project is carried out thoroughly and to the highest standards using well-known project methodologies.
  3. Impartiality – Though interim consultants are open and adaptable to varying company cultures, they are also experts in separating their work from company politics or personalities. Being new to your business and coming on board to complete an assignment in a short amount of time will mean they will be strategic in their decision-making and impartial.
  4. Delivery – As interim managers are typically outcome focused and work tactically, they are great for delivering back to the board. They are also key for ensuring work is delivered on time and on budget, whilst working to ensure a good return on investment.
  5. Value for Money – And last but by no means least, in many cases an interim will manage their own business or will have experience in running P&L through previous employment. Perhaps most importantly, an interim manager will know that there is an ROI figure attached to both themselves and the project they have been hired to execute. As stated above independent consultants are almost invariably available at a much lower price.

Paul Hutchison is one of our B2E Business Development leads and has engaged a large number of independent consultants during his time in industry.  He echoed some of these benefits, saying of independent consultants “A side benefit was their independence from the politics that swirls around most companies, especially at times of change, so they could act as a pair of ‘eyes and ears’ for the Exec team…I also saw value in external consultants being able to ‘mentor’ the internal staff as a by-product of their role.

The Gig Economy

It’s almost as if the Gig Economy was built for interim consulting.  In 2016, research by the European Forum of Independent Professionals showed the number of freelance workers in Europe had increased by 45% in just three years. As borderless teams, co-working spaces and freelancing are on the rise, the lines between corporate and gig life are becoming blurred. Both clients and consultants can benefit. Clients get their work at a lower cost; consultants have the benefit of greater flexibility in their careers.

For consulting clients the flexibility of the gig economy is great news.  They can get the benefit of experienced consultants to support specific projects.  They bring learning from similar programmes either in the same or similar industries and are totally focused on the company’s objectives.  These benefits are reinforced by the findings from B2E’s November 2017 survey of interim consultants in our network. Click here to read the research findings which were also featured in Executive Grapevine.

On 26 September, our own Maninder Murfin wrote about how the Gig Economy is transforming consulting. Emerging players and challenger consultancies in professional services are now linking independently minded people to high-end gigs.  B2E is one of these challenger consultancies that use digital platforms to capture skills and preferences, communicate out roles and therefore enable their expert in-house team to rapidly match up its signed-up consultants with its client’s specific needs. They also counter feelings of isolation by investing in events and fostering personal contact within their vibrant community.

What next?

Hopefully I have piqued your interest in finding out more about hiring independent consultants and looking beyond the ‘Big 5’. At B2E Consulting we offer immediate access to high calibre, expert consultants by leveraging our B2E community of over 24,000 talented individuals at significantly lower cost.

Click here to find out more about hiring an interim consultant and how B2E Consulting can help.

About the author, Julie Crawford

Julie joined B2E in 2015 and is one of our Role Consultants.  In this role, she sources the best people within our community for a variety of business & technology consulting roles.  Prior to this Julie spent 7 years with Accenture specialising in Strategy, CRM and Process change, with a specific focus on the Travel Industry. She went on to lead the EMEA Hotel Solutions Group and later the UK Meetings and Events Department for Carlson Wagonlit Travel over a 7-year period.