How to Cut Your Consulting Bill in Half

Cut Consulting BillThese days, IT leaders are being asked to do more with less.

Faced with this directive, most IT leaders immediately hire—what we can all agree feels like—an excessive number of consultants to figure out how to make it all work.

I’m not talking about the thousands of contractors you’ve hired to manage your day-to-day system upgrades and testing. And I’m not talking about the temporary workers you hire on a project basis to close your team’s technical skill gap. I’m talking about the consultants who you tend to hire to help solve your softer problems.

What Value Do All These Consultants Add?

Now, there’s nothing wrong with hiring consultants to help solve these problems. I am a consultant; I know the value we bring to the table.

And a lot of this value is unique value that only we consultants can bring. An experienced consultant leverages decades of experience solving similar problems, applies best practices and benchmarks from other companies, and acts as a third party to keep your stakeholders in line.

However, a substantial amount of the value we consultants bring to the table comes from deploying a suite of very simply professional skills that anyone can learn. These skills often relate to effective stakeholder management, strategic outlook, and communications. These are professional skills that are so simple it’s reasonable to expect your people to be able to deploy them in-house on their own. But your people just can’t, and you pay the price for this lack of basic professional skills through your exorbitant consultant bills.

Your people are well-meaning. They are good at the technical side of their jobs. But most IT people just never learned the basic professional skills required to take a point, bring it to fruition, and to solve problems along the way with minimal friction.

They never learn professional skills like:

1. Agenda Setting

A true agenda—not just a list of tasks or updates.

The skill of agenda setting means going beyond what needs to be accomplished, and moving toward the true intent of a meeting. It means identifying the right people to be present, and making sure those people know why they’re there, what they’re going to do, and what’s expected of them by the end.

2. Facilitating Meetings and Workshops

The skill of fulfilling the agenda in a careful and thoughtful way: knowing how to make sure the discussion stays on track, and no one avoids the hard thinking and dialogue required.

This skill involves many smaller subtle —and not-so-subtle—skills of directing a group of people—each of whom has his or her own goals, concerns, and sometimes conflicting personalities—around a central topic and making sure that topic gets closed.

Once together, someone needs to facilitate the group, and that someone usually ends up being a consultant. In fact, this is probably the number one thing you pay your consultants to do.

3. Summarizing and Documenting Meetings

This is the second most common skill you hire consultants for.

During a meeting, most IT people provide their updates, and half-listen as others give updates. And then, right after the meeting, almost all of your people will clear out and move on—physically and mentally.

Along the way, very few IT people take notes. Even if they did take notes, most of your people aren’t engaged in resolving issues or really hearing the discussion. Everyone’s just checking their phones.

OK, I’m exaggerating (a little bit). But it’s almost always a consultant who takes notes, types up the summary, and organizes action items. Sure, a good project manager does this – but a consultant follows-up in a thoughtful, written communication that summarizes and documents what happened in the meeting, what was decided, and what everyone’s next steps are.

And contrary to popular belief, consultants don’t stick around after meetings to rack up billable hours. We could just do this work the next day and charge the same for it. It’s just more effective to follow-through while the meeting is fresh in mind.

These are three of the most common skills you hire consultants to deploy. There are many more skills within this suite of professional skills, but they all look a lot like the above skills—they are all skills which anyone could learn, which the average IT person was ever taught, which all good consultants learn early in their career and which you pay consultants so much to bring in for your projects.

If you want to cut your consulting bill in half…

…your next step is simple.

Pull some of this years’ L&D budget away from pure technical training, and devote it to teaching your people the skills they lack and which you hire expensive consultants to bring to the table.

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