Speed is essential to succeed in the ever-increasing regulatory environment. Engaging consultants, who swiftly and efficiently can help us navigate through the many rules, regulations, laws and mandated compliance at the federal and state levels, will help our companies stay on track and keep us moving forward with little or no interruption.
While most protections make sense, the rapidity at which we must implement them is not always practical. Yet, most delays will cause other problems, from bad PR to fines and penalties to operational risks or worse, shutdowns.
Increasingly, companies in our industries are joining forces with the broad spectrum of consulting firms to address EHS issues. Whether the concerns are based on something like ergonomics for large office settings or the environmental hazards associated with construction, manufacturing, health care delivery or other industry sectors, consultant-experts are considered the solution. Most businesses do engage consultants when swift action is required — but knowing what to do is different from knowing who to do it with.
So how can companies identify the consultant most in tune with their short- and long-term needs as well as their culture?
CHOOSING A CONSULTANT
Finding consultants — either retirees returning to the work force or established experts in the field — who look and sound good is the easy part. Finding the consultant to lead your initiative who is right for the project as well as right for your organization requires more than a resume review. It will require a next-level review to find out if they have the right expertise and the right personality. Perhaps their credentials are impeccable but their working style does not fit with your team. How can you be sure they will lead generously with clarity and purpose rather than intimidate and stifle?
Many projects go astray because the enterprise does not go to the next level of questioning in the initial negotiation and interview process. Below are the best, next-level questions and discussion points to consider when engaging a consultant for your EHS initiative.
Probe real experience
Go beyond a simple listing of past case studies with the potential consultant. Instead, request a list of most-successful projects that faced the same implications you are from new OSHA regulations or are indicative of the consultant's ability to get involved or influence pending legislation. Upon review, look at very specific numerical results along with the time line for completion. Take the time to study not just the final assessment, but the entire process of the project and results. Ask for details about how he or she leveraged the client's strengths in order to achieve goals.
Reputation and Standing
If your consultant is needed for an internal strategic plan, then who he knows and what committees he has access to may not be important. But, if your project requires communicating with influencers or decision-makers outside of your company, then who your consultant knows may be just as important as what he or she knows. If you need someone who can negotiate with state boards or seek and secure appropriate waivers or delays, your EHS consultant should have a Rolodex of names and numbers. At the very least, he or she should know to whom you need to reach out in order to help your initiative along when it comes to working with a local, regional or national government agency. Companies utilizing a well-known and well-respected consultant with favorable county, state or federal relationships can add credibility and make a tremendous difference when your program is under evaluation for thoroughness and effectiveness.
Personality makes a difference every time. Charming but annoying? Smart but withdrawn? Generous but slow paced? How can you ever know if the person with the great credentials on paper will have the right attitude, pace and personality for your workplace? You will need to “get real” with them for them to “get real” with you. Look behind their assertions of “client sensitivity and user-friendliness” and disclose your company and team peculiarities or characteristics. Tell them about such work force/work process quirks such as extreme committee decision-making, extensive weekend conference calls to prepare for Monday meetings, a strong tendency toward group credit rather than individual recognition, etc., and then ask them how they would deal with the scenarios or culture conditions you put forth.
Determine your consultant's flexibility and cleverness by asking him to share a particularly tricky client relations problem and how he handled it. To illustrate: Suppose he mentions a situation where there was intense disagreement; ask him how he was able to lead or create a consensus to optimize performance and results or perhaps even change the direction of the project. You need to know how he takes control of or manipulates situations — a strong personality who knows when to walk away may be right for your company while another company may prefer someone who leads by accepting compromise. Find out!
Attitude toward “speed-to-answer.” We know in today's highly competitive business world, getting quick answers and actions is crucial, which is why hiring recent retirees back to the work force who have knowledge of the business operations is being received so well. Rapid response is key and it is critical to learn if your pace in reaching goals is shared by the consultant. What you're trying to do is avoid excessive diagnosis or over-packaging of presentations. One approach — assuming you have a draft proposal in hand — is to ask the consultant how she would create the proposed study in half the time. Hopefully, she will have enough experience to provide a general answer as well as the ability to quickly customize an outline for your project.
Playing well with others
Outsourcing C-level knowledge through consultant engagement doesn't mean the consultant is outside of your company culture. On the contrary, clients want their management or staff to interact with the consultant, particularly as a number of companies have put in stronger internal staff roots. If this is the case with your organization, then it is important to study the consultant's behavior and ask previous companies that have employed him or her details about style: Must the consultant be the loudest voice and smartest person in the room? Does she accept shared achievement or must it be all about her? Will he lead generously or secretively? Find out!
Our industry rapidly and continuously is changing and the need for consultant engagements is sure to grow. If some or all of these questions are part of the interview process, the enterprise will enter into a relationship that will yield the most favorable result.
George Norsig is co-founder and CEO of NuuKo, an online marketplace for enterprise consultant expertise. A former senior director with McKinsey & Co. for nearly 30 years, he has delivered company-saving solutions to enterprises facing major strategic decisions about scalability and portfolio restructuring. Norsig has advised industrial leaders in the technology, healthcare and energy industries as they developed more effective strategies for innovatively retooling their companies for global growth. He can be reached at email@example.com.