The Most Important Qualities Your Next Consultant Should Have

Development consultants can be helpful.  Not all, certainly.  But quality development consultants can add great value to your organization. There are times when organizations are more apt to think about engaging a consultant: to assess campaign readiness, to implement a campaign, or to conduct an audit are a few examples.

And when an organization decides to engage a consultant, what qualities should be viewed as most important?  Which characteristics can make the difference between a quality consulting experience and a bad one?  Here are three qualities I suggest you look for in your next development consultant. Super effective development consultants have:

  1. Communication Savvy – Some consultants can talk you into circles – that’s what they get paid to do in many instances!  And many organizations buy the “more talk, higher fee” types.  Steer clear of those consultants who talk more than they listen, especially early on.  Stephen Covey’s rule applies here:  “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  A good consultant understands that good counsel is not about spewing out recommendations, it’s about transforming organizations.  The effective consultant doesn’t talk to you — he listens first and then works with you.  And being a savvy communicator also means that your development consultant can help you craft effective messages.  Whether it is working with your Board, crafting a direct mail letter, or finalizing a campaign case statement, you want someone who can bring communicative expertise to the table.
  2. Likability – Can you listen to this person or team?  Better yet, can you live with them through the course of the project or engagement?  Here is a truth:  The leaders of the organization must have an affinity toward the consultant.  On an important personal level, you must like the consultant.  An overall positive relationship between consultant and client can help the navigation of difficult conversations or decisions.  We gravitate toward things and people we like.  If you don’t like your consultant’s attitude, demeanor, way of communicating, etc., your relationship won’t generate the greatest value possible for your organization.
  3. Broad Leadership Experience – Have they been there, done that – successfully?  And not necessarily in your specific organization type either.  I often find organizations which will grade a consultant lower if she doesn’t have specific experience in their organizational-type.  This could be a big mistake.  If you only surround yourself with people who have experiences similar to yours, you lose a big opportunity to learn “from the outside.”  Here’s a secret:  We – individuals and organizations – are not nearly as “unique” as we like to believe!  Effective leadership and development work in higher education is very similar to effective leadership and development work in healthcare.  The same principles and concepts apply across all organizational types.  Bringing in a consultant who has wide-ranging leadership experiences can be a huge benefit in ways not immediately known at the beginning of a project.  Real value comes from inviting a strategic-thinking consultant to partner with you – regardless of whether he has vast experience in your particular organizational type.

In searching for your next development consultant, you should conduct a process that not only finds out how much they charge for their services, but also investigates their communication skill, their likability, and broad-results oriented leadership experiences.  Often overlooked, these characteristics can be the difference between a fair relationship and a transformational one.


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