Recruiting staff and a consultant is a life and death decision as Peter Drucker reminded us.  It is better to spend 40 hours in a comprehensive selection process (putting up fences at the top of a cliff) than spend 400 hours sorting out the mess (at the bottom of the cliff).

It is imperative that you invest as much time as possible in the pre-selection process, before you are in dialogue with short-listed consulting firms.  Your first point of call is to short-list three to five consultants based on reputation.  This is easier than you think.  A great starting point is to ask consultants who have had starring roles previously with this or previous organizations you have worked with.  Ask them for referrals.  You may even find they put themselves forward for part of the assignment and will work alongside a recommend consultant they have known for years.

Great staff and great consultants know other great staff / consultants.  That is how the business world works best.

Where possible, phone some of the consultant’s previous clients.  If you have to resort to an open tendering process, ensure that interested suppliers need to provide references of clients where the proposed consultants have performed the same assignment that is required in the project.  This will reduce the number of firms submitting expressions of interest/proposals (depending on how involved you want the selection process to be).  These references should be checked prior to any short-listing.

Having made a shortlist, it is worth contacting a couple of their previous clients to ask “would you take Pat Carruthers on for another consulting assignment” as Jack Welch, in his book “winning”, pointed out you will be surprised how frank they might be. Assuming a thumbs up, go on to ask how the consultant works best (they may not realize it themselves).

On a large assignment it may be necessary to “hire a thief to catch a thief” (no offense intended). I remember being asked to quote on a major proposal when all the signs were bad.  Instead I offered our services as part of the quality selection process behind the scenes, to help with the short list, evaluate the proposed teams, and suggest lines of questioning.  One of the benefits of our involvement was ensuring that a staff member mentioned in the proposal was elevated to a higher role in the team.  It meant revenue moving within the consulting firm, from one office to another. In the original proposal, the office in charge of the proposal, had selected their own staff at the expense of using stronger consultants from other offices.

The advantage of pre-selection work is that it creates a win-win for you and the consultants.  You are asking only those firms that can do the job and have a successful track record to invest time in proposals.  At the same time, you will be more confident in the consultants and hence more likely to actively promote them in-house, to give them the freedom to get on with the job, and last, but not least, to listen to them.