Part two of a three-part series equipping leaders with a toolkit to get the most from engaging with a consulting team. Covering reasons to work with a consultant, outcomes to expect, and keys to success, each piece outlines the critical elements for an optimal experience, helping leaders realize the full potential of their organizations
If you’ve had the privilege of working with a professional services consulting team to get fresh opinions from bright minds in business, you’ll know about the incredible outcomes that can result. New funding acquisition and diversification of revenue streams, increased partnership numbers, greater audience awareness, better visibility into data to leverage for decision-making, and greater capacity for service to communities are just to name a few.
Whether direct or indirect, expected or surprising, your consulting project must drive substantial impact for your organization, its people, and the community you serve. But did you know that your time with a consultant should also stimulate internal conversations that get people at your organization excited about their own contributions to new ideas? Or provide you with a gold mine of data to leverage for insights and decision-making time and time again? Even improve culture?
You’ll know a project’s value when your team and board refer to it well into the future to inform decision-making – and in some cases when it is the catalyst for bringing everyone onto the same page. A great project is a gift for your organization that gives long after the engagement is through, acting as an anchor, compass, roadmap, and measuring stick for level-setting, charting courses, and gauging progress.
Mobilizing over a thousand volunteers representing diverse backgrounds, fields, and industries to complete pro-bono strategy projects for numerous non-profit organizations from a variety of sectors has revealed the best solutions and outcomes to expect. Here are some non-negotiables and extra value-add you shouldn’t be missing out on.
Nothing less than the best
In general, your investment with a consulting team should instill confidence and trust, knowing that you’re working within the most up-to-date best practices infused with new perspectives to drive relevant and innovative ideas.
To begin with, your consulting team should build strong foundations with a thorough environmental scan to set the landscape for your project. A comprehensive underpinning should include a review of the most recent and relevant literature, and original research with key informants for the project. A good-quality environmental scan will look at not only potential strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats – but also political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental implications.
Your project should distinctly identify the main challenges for your area of focus, resulting in a set of objectives, broken down into several goals and their accompanying benchmarks. This portion of your experience should be so relevant for your needs, that you can envision repurposing these pieces for additional strategic directives, preparing funding applications, or approaching community partners.
One arts organization in particular was interested in attracting visitors to its physical location just before the onset of the pandemic. Once engaged with a consulting team, it became apparent that a pivot needed to be made, and quickly, because they wouldn’t be able to welcome ticket-holders onsite for an unknown length of time. What began as a marketing strategy soon became a recovery strategy focused on financial resilience, re-imagined audience engagement and program outputs, and new ways of measuring success.
Recommendations included taking existing programs into the digital space, finding ways to integrate and expand on new themes to address the needs and interests of new audiences, and focusing on the touchpoints that drive engagement and revenue. Each proved invaluable for other programs, which have also been guided by these recommendations, and the organization now uses impact measurement for every strategic initiative it pursues.
Checklist: Foundations portion of scope of work
▢ Environmental scan, including SWOT and PESTLE analyses
▢ Literature review
▢ Original research, in the field if applicable
▢ Challenges clearly defined
▢ Objectives, goals, and benchmarks identified
Evaluation and measurement are not only for the end of a project, but also used to help navigate through an initiative with confidence, to see it to its desired outcome. Your consulting endeavour should supply you with clearly identified key metrics to collect throughout your initiative until the very end, from inputs like hours and dollars spent, to outputs such as number of community touchpoints, to outcomes and targets reached – and impacts associated, such as hearing from a stakeholder just how much of a difference your efforts have made in their experience. Building a dashboard with indicators to track progress toward targets on a cadence is especially helpful. After all, you’ll want to see the data showing just how well your efforts have paid off.
In some cases, the measurement work you will do with a consulting team can inspire a more structured, consistent, or otherwise improved system for tracking strategy implementations in other areas of the organization.
Checklist: Measurement portion of scope of work
▢ Clearly identified metrics
▢ End-goal metrics
▢ Periodic metrics for checking in throughout the project
▢ Evaluation of inputs, outputs, and outcomes
Making exponential impact
In many cases, a consulting project can do more for your organization than solve for only the objectives outlined in the scope of work. By its nature, working with an external team requires participation from the internal one, co-creating new dynamics from which new and innovative ideas spring. Some organizations experience improved board engagement, ranging from an interest in the project all the way to board roles taking on fundraising initiatives to carve out capacity for staff.
Sometimes a project can become so important that it changes the internal culture of an organization, such as with a health organization that makes no moves unless it aligns with revenue-generation criteria established through their consulting project. In truly transformative cases, some projects have had the power to unify those with opposing viewpoints on a directive, helping them see eye to eye.
Checklist: Impact portion of scope of work
▢ Cross-functional team discussions and workshops
▢ Data repository for use on other projects (the “goldmine”)
▢ Criteria sets as a reference for other initiatives
▢ Report publication for use by stakeholders in all areas of the organization
Ultimately, your engagement with a consulting team and its final product should make great strides for the growth of your organization, continuing on past its creation period as the blueprint on how to move forward. More than anything, your consulting project should breathe new life into your organization as you look back and consider it one of the best things you’ve ever done, making it well worth the endeavour.
For the past eight years, Heather Waldman has been helping companies improve overall performance and impact, and clearing pathways for organizations to realize their full potential. As Executive Director at Endeavour Volunteer Consulting, Heather leads a highly skilled volunteer group focused on providing pro-bono management consulting to improve the organizational capacity and community impact of non-profits. Heather and the Endeavour team believe that all organizations should have access to professional services, regardless of their finances.