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Buyers' Guide

How to hire a strategy consultant

You know your business better than anyone.

Whether you’ve built it from the ground up, risen through the ranks over the years, or come in and transformed it to what it is today, you know your business inside and out. So when challenges arise, it can be difficult to admit when you need help.

In an ever-changing economic landscape where no industry is safe from disruption, the thought of adjusting, augmenting, or refining your business strategy can be overwhelming. You’re not alone: In a survey of 156 CEOs The Predictive Index® conducted in 2019, 94 percent of CEOs said they needed help with business strategy.

Now you’ve been wondering, “Is it the right time to bring in a strategy consultant?” Having awareness that you need help is an important first step and an indication that you already know the answer: yes.

There are many reasons to hire a strategy consultant to help your business realize the success you know it’s capable of achieving. But where do you start?

In this guide, we’ll go step by step through the strategy consultant selection process. Doing your homework upfront will create the best outcome for you, your people, and your business. With a little time, consideration, and follow through on action items, you’ll find the right strategy consultant to take your business to the next level. 

This functional guide will help you navigate the most critical steps in the consultant hiring process:

  • Identifying your business problems
  • Establishing your goal and desired outcome(s)
  • Determining the kind of consulting offering you want
  • Defining what’s most important to you in a consultant or consulting team
  • Using best practices to shop around for the best consulting solution for you
  • Making a hiring decision

Step 1

Identify your business problems.

Even the smallest problems can have a ripple effect on your business. Taking the time to identify these problems will help you select the right strategy consultant to diagnose and take action on even the most nuanced issues.

In preparing for your strategy consultant search, it’s integral to come to the table with an idea of where you need help—even if it’s a basic one. 

  • You don’t need to have all the answers; you just need to know where you’d like to start.

What’s your most pressing business issue?

As a business leader, you’ve likely already identified your most pressing business issue—that’s why you’re considering bringing in a strategy consultant. You may find that you struggle most with one of the following:

  • Lack of scalable infrastructure to support growth;
  • Stagnant or losing market share;
  • Value proposition that isn’t resonating with customers; or
  • Misalignment between organizational structure and business goals.
What are the secondary business or people issues that need to be addressed?

While you’ve identified your most pressing business issue, there are undoubtedly secondary issues that need to be addressed—and those can be identified by working with other stakeholders across the business.

For example, if your most pressing issue is you need to gain (or even simply maintain) market share, consider some points of failure that could affect your ability to realize your goal:

  • Product development
  • Operational structure
  • Marketing and/or sales enablement
  • Organizational design
  • Skills gap

In hiring a strategy consultant, being able to identify your weak spots will make for an easier search and selection process. The more you know about your secondary business issues, the more likely you are to identify the right consulting partner with the right skill set and expertise to solve them.

What’s the root cause of these issues?

Don’t worry—sometimes it can be difficult to identify the root cause of the business problems you’re experiencing. But if you have an inkling, use that information to drive your strategy consultant search.

Often times, what we think is the root cause of our problems may turn out to be a symptom of a larger business issue yet to be diagnosed. And that larger issue may be different from what you think.

In the same 2019 CEO survey, 92 percent of CEOs recognized that they needed help with talent strategy. In fact, 18 percent said “extensive help” was needed. Hiring the right strategy consultant who’s experienced in both business strategy and talent strategy can help you unearth that root cause of your business problems so you can tackle them at their source.

Step 2

Establish your goal and desired outcome(s).

Once you’ve identified your primary and secondary business issues, it’s critical to establish your ultimate goal and list your desired outcomes when working with a strategy consultant. But how do you decide what those look like?

As a business leader, you may very well have an idea of what you want, and stakeholders across the business may have their own ideas, too. As with any great strategy, there needs to be organizational alignment and buy-in.

What’s important to each stakeholder?

While you and the executive team will likely set the ultimate business goal, the desired outcomes that go along with achieving that goal will vary across the organization. Taking the time to be transparent and talk with other stakeholders will help to establish trust and buy-in, as well as create a sense of purpose for those tasked with accountability in delivering against your goal.

Consider the aspects of the business that may be important to your various stakeholders and what desired outcomes, which can be considered milestones or wins, align with each.

In keeping with an earlier example, if your goal in working with a strategy consultant is to build a strategy to gain market share, some desired outcomes may be:

  • Finance: “We need to see measurable immediate ROI and understand the downstream effects.”
  • Product: “We need the ability and resources to refine or create a new product that will give us an edge among the competition.”
  • Human resources: “We need a way to better manage our current resources and hire the right people so we can get to where we need to be.”

While from the outset, you may not be certain how those desired outcomes align with your ultimate business goal, hiring the right strategy consultant can help you engage with your stakeholders so each feels they have a vested interest in achieving that goal.

Are you prepared to make the necessary changes?

While not always comfortable, change is inevitable. In any industry ripe for disruption, the need to adjust business strategy to meet market demands can be a reality that’s difficult to face.

When hiring a strategy consultant, it’s important to prepare yourself for the possibility that they may suggest you roll out a new technology solution, employ a new methodology, or even restructure teams within your organization.

When you find the right strategy consulting partner, remember that they’ve been hired for a reason: to take your business to the next level.

  • Trust is integral to success, but so is a willingness to change when necessary.

Before bringing on a strategy consultant, be sure to think critically about:

  • How willing you are to follow through on the consultant’s suggestions
  • How open you are to change
  • What kind of change management will be necessary within the organization (i.e., is your organization historically more open or more resistant to change?)

While change can be scary, having the right strategy consultant with you on that journey will make it less so.

Step 3

Determine the kind of consulting offering you want.

Like any industry, management consulting is not immune to disruption. This means you have more options—and some offerings may be different from the traditional strategy consulting you’re already familiar with.

Out-of-the-box solution or customized?

Every organization is different, and your goals may be unique to you. Think critically about whether you’d like to work with a consultant offering a tried-and-true solution with minimal customization, or if you’d prefer to build something that’s customized to your business needs and goals.

Keep in mind, in our survey of CEOs, we found that while 41 percent indicated they’d most likely select a proven system to address their business issues, a significant 59 percent said that they’d prefer to work with a consultant who provides customized engagements to meet their needs.

Project-based or retained services?

How long you want to work with a strategy consultant will largely depend on the complexity of your business issues as well as your goals and desired outcomes. While project-based consulting engagements won’t go away anytime soon, consider being open to a retained service solution to properly diagnose your business problems and design long-term solutions to help you meet and exceed your goals.

Ask yourself, “How much time am I willing to dedicate to helping my business?” If it’s a short-term (12 weeks or less) need, a project-based engagement may be right for you. But if your issues are complex and goals lofty, a retained service, whether consultant-reliant or subscription-based, could be the better option.

Consultant reliance or self sufficiency?

One of the pitfalls of working with a strategy consultant is that it’s easy to become completely dependent on their services or, on the flip side, ignore them almost entirely. Think about your organization and how involved you want your consultant to be. Some consultants come in and diagnose the root cause of your business issues and leave you with action items at the end of the engagements. Others will stay and help you take action and implement those suggested changes.

If you’re thinking you’d like something in the middle, find a consultant who will be there for you during the heavy lift and stay available to you when you need them. This type of service may also equip you with new tools or methodologies you can roll out to your organization over time, building your organization’s confidence and eventual self sufficiency. This will free you up to call on your strategy consultant for the little hurdles that may pop up along the way.

What is your budget?

As the old adage goes, “What’s good isn’t always cheap, and what’s cheap isn’t always good.” Effective strategy consulting comes with a price tag, and it’s up to you to decide on the budget you’re comfortable operating with to achieve your goals. Project-based engagements come at a sometimes lofty cost based on billable hours, which can run over. Retained and subscription-based services, while perhaps seemingly more costly upfront, can provide you with some peace of mind that you’re not going to run over-budget.

Step 4

Define what is most important to you in a consultant or consulting team.

Strategy consulting firms come in all shapes and sizes. From solo practitioners to boutique consultancies to large firms with familiar names, you will likely find the service offerings you need. But the consulting services themselves mean next to nothing unless you find the right consultant or consulting team for your needs.

Take time to consider what you want.
  • Your values are important, and so it’s essential that you consider working with a strategy consultant or consulting team consistent with those values.

This will help to establish a foundation of trust in your relationship with your strategy consultant or team.

So, what’s important to you?

  • Consultant reputation and proven success
  • Years and depth of experience
  • Length of time the consulting team (if applicable) has been together
  • Consultant communication style and frequency of access
  • Consultant methodology and analytical tools used

Starting with the examples provided above, expand based on your own needs and values. This will help you narrow down your list of potential strategy consulting partners and save you time and energy as you start to shop around for the right fit.

Step 5

Shop around.

When your business issues are pressing and require an urgent solution, it may be difficult to have patience as you go through the strategy consultant selection process. Be mindful of the downstream effects of not shopping around, not just the immediate impact.

While it may seem overwhelming, there are resources to help. As a business leader, you may want to consider leveraging your network to generate referrals.

Great people know other great people, and so reaching out to other business leaders whom you admire for some guidance can help you quickly narrow down an ideal strategy consulting partner.

To supplement any referrals you may receive from your network, consider using online directories to help you search based on location and expertise. The Consulting Bench and The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) can provide you with comprehensive lists and details to aid you in your selection. If you’re looking for a consultant who specializes in aligning talent strategy with business strategy, you can also check out our list of PI Certified Partners.

Interview, interview, interview.

Your strategy consultant partner will become an integral part of your business, so approach the selection process with the same attention and care you would if you were hiring directly onto your team. Requesting a statement of work (SOW) is a great start, but meeting with the strategy consultant or consulting team will help you communicate your needs and guarantee there will be alignment and understanding on both sides of the table.

That said, there’s a delicate balance between doing your homework and dragging the process on longer than it needs to be. Interviewing a few consultants or consulting teams should come easily once you’ve done the necessary preparation work; interviewing a dozen will take time away not only from your day-to-day, but also leave you frustrated and no closer to achieving your goal.

Assembling a top-notch, aligned interview team will help in the decision making process, too. Remember, the entire organization will be impacted, and so it’s imperative that you have organizational alignment and buy-in, too.

Final Step:

You’re ready to make a decision.

When all your research and interviews are done, it’s time to make a decision. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your team to choose the right solution for your organization. While the process may have been long, doing the legwork described in this functional guide should help make you confident in your choice to hire a strategy consultant.

Think back to your ultimate goal and desired outcome

Whatever your decision, make sure it will drive you toward achieving your business goals and bring your stakeholders their desired outcomes. While each strategy consultant may offer a different way to get there, remember to stay true to your business.

Be open along the way.

Your business problems may be different from what you thought, and it’s imperative that you trust in whichever strategy consultant you choose. Remain confident in your decision and be open to suggestions your consultant will make based on the discovery of your business issues’ true root cause.

With the right decision, success is inevitable.

Your new strategy consultant has a vested interest in your success, too.

  • With the right consulting partner, not only will you feel empowered, but so will the rest of your organization.

Aligning your people strategy with your business strategy as directed by your consultant will propel your business in ways you may not have imagined.