Four Critical Points to Bring in a Consultant

By Susanne Elizer

Recently, I was having lunch with a potential client and I was challenged on the value of consultants as my lunch partner thought his company could do all the work themselves. He was surprised when I agreed with him, and then the conversation turned to how to determine the right time to bring in consultants and how to select the right one. Since this lunch and in talking to others, I’ve realized this is a topic of interest for many people, so thought I’d share my perspective.

When to bring in consultants

In a perfect world, all work can be done internally by committed staff. However, that is not always the case. Here are four situations a consultant can add value to your organization:

  1. Skillset or Methodology
    As your organization grows, you have projects or functions where you do not have the skillset to complete the work. It’s not uncommon for consultants to be brought in after the organization has tried unsuccessfully to complete the work or has evaluated their staff and determined they need help. In addition, your staff may have the ability to perform the work, but doesn’t have a defined methodology or the tools and templates to accelerate the work in a timely manner. I’ve seen this in many areas including Pre-IPO readiness, SOX testing, fraud risk assessments, and security assessments.
  2. Capacity
    Your staff may have the skillset, but they do not have the capacity to take on the additional work to meet either a surge in demand for the service due to growth, a new project, or an issue. It’s often difficult for our clients to take their staff off of their line roles and put them on projects that are required to support corporate initiatives. Many times someone leaves the group and a consultant is hired while a replacement is found. Two other common situations are when a regulatory issue comes up and the team needs to conduct an investigation, and when a finance department is growing too rapidly to handle the increased workload. In all these cases, consultants can be valuable. I’ve seen this in many areas including interim accounting help, compliance investigations, and IT support.
  3. Focus
    Closely aligned with capacity is focus. It is helpful to have a consultant who only does what they are hired to do, so they do not get distracted by other company demands. I’ve heard consultants sometimes described as the master herder of cats. If you’ve ever tried to herd cats, you’ll appreciate that it’s actually really hard work. I’ve seen this with project management support; cyclical work, such as SOX testing; or some internal audit testing.
    In addition, an organization may decide there’s a function it does not want to focus on, as it is not a core competency and they are not ready to make it a priority. In this situation, the company can outsource the function to a consulting firm. I’ve seen this with our outsourced accounting services for companies who are not at a stage where they want to build this function.
  4. Independence
    Audits or risk assessments are the best example where independence is required to conduct the work. However, there are many other times where an organization wants someone who isn’t clouded by career progression and political alliances, and can bring a fresh perspective. I’ve seen this with our internal audit, testing, and risk and security work in particular.

    How to find the right consultants

    Once you’ve determined you need a consultant, how do you find the right one for your organization? Here are a few key criteria that may help:

    • Skillset-As noted above, bring in the consultant who can bring the skillset or the methodology that you need.
    • Culture-Your consultant has to mesh well with your culture. Consultants are, by definition, fairly flexible, but there are limits. Different consulting firms tend to have different approaches. Make sure they can match your cultural demands. Look at what you consider key attributes, such as size of teams, seniority of consultants, methodology and approach used, collaborative or command and control approach, and size of engagements.
    • Budget-You get what you pay for and there’s no need to pay for more than you need. Assess your needs and your budget. Evaluate the right price point and find a firm that can work with you.
    • Relationships-Referrals and people you trust tend to lead to higher levels of satisfaction in the work performed and a better understanding of your company’s needs.

    Not every situation requires you to hire consultants. However, finding the right one at the right time can accelerate growth and the quality of the work being performed.

Susanne Elizer is the Practice Director—Technology and Compliance at Accretive Solutions. She leads global, cross-functional, and virtual teams in significant organizational change and has deep expertise in risk management process and technology reengineering, Sarbanes Oxley implementation, valuation review process and technology, strategic sourcing, benchmarking, developer adoption and field enablement. Susanne holds a number of certifications, including PMP, Six Sigma Green Belt, CISM, and CIPP/IT.