There is more to consulting than just the consultant. There has to be. This is why the same consultant might do a splendid job for one organization and not so well for another. Consulting is about the client, culture, and timing, as much as it is about the consultant.
Consultants vary in style and personality and that variation makes our experiences with the same consultant so different. You might like him, I might hate him. Actually, I might love a consultant on one day and hate him on another. When hiring a consultant pay attention to their personal style as it will affect your ability to get the benefits you are seeking.
For example, some consultants are so non-committal style that they tell you everything is possible, and they would be right too. For example, when asked if this approach might work, they will tell you it might, even if it had a chance of 1 in a 1000. They are so concise that they might spook the untrained eye. Some clients are comfortable with such consultants. They can deal with the extra preciseness. Others might not.
Some clients would shy away from the “non-committal” style consultant, and want an “Assuming” consultant. Assuming consultants are the ones willing to take responsibility for decisions on behalf of the client. For example, they are comfortable telling the client what to do and what not to do, or what would work and would not. they would say it with almost certainty as they consider 90% confidence is good enough for them to dismiss the possibility of failure. For example, they would tell the client, if you change this approach, you will get better results guaranteed. Of course the consultant cannot guarantee the results, but he is trying to help the client take a decision.
Everyone has experiences with both types of consultants. Personally, I remember once I was looking to buy a house in Michigan in the early 90’s. I got introduced to an excellent Realtor who is a friend of a friend. He took me through quite a few beautiful houses that fit my needs perfectly. He never was bias. When I asked him his opinion, he would objectively state the pros and cons of every house, but never pushed me to buy any. the result of this non-committal approach was me not buying anything. Not because I did not find anything I like, but because I needed a bit more help given my low level of experience with the market at that time in Michigan. Five years later, he would have been the perfect Realtor to help me pick a house. but at that early stage of maturity in my knowledge in the housing market I needed someone more aggressive, who would put his neck out, beyond his duty as a consultant, to “sell” me on a good idea or, in this case, a good house.
I have to admit that I have fallen in this trap with clients all too often; where my diligence in being an “honest” consultant, kept me in the non committal zone, with clients who needed a little bit extra help. The result was confusion and frustration from the client. With mature clients who understand fully my role as a consultant, and there responsibilities as clients, the approach worked perfectly for both sides.
There has to be an honorable mention of the “Zealot” consultant. This is the consultant who is taking things too personally to be objective at all. He would even take it personally if you do not follow his or her recommendations to the letter. Even this type of consultant is needed also for some clients. When the client lacks the discipline but wholeheartedly wants the results, then the zealot consultant is a good solution. The zealot consultant is a hat that you were and it is not a personality necessarily, even though I have to admit some zealot consultants have this hat on even when they sleep. They are zealots to the bone. However, it is OK to act like the zealot consultant when your client is asking you to help them with discipline issues, not only structure or process. A word of caution though: sometimes we wear the zealot hat when we are too attached to the client or the account. For example, if you are somehow attached to the mission of the organization you are helping, then you might find yourself too critical and judgmental whenever they make a mistake. You might even be pushy in getting them to do what they should do, and you might even get angry and lose composure when the client is not listening or not following agreed upon actions. This is why a consulting company needs consultants to help them improve their own operation; internal consultants, no matter how experienced, are too attached and emotionally involved to objectively deal with the challenge.
So, when choosing a consultant, take into consideration your style, organizational culture, and the issue at hand, and see if their personality meets the specifics of your situation.