Maximizing Your ROC (Return on Consultants)

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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Many companies today depend on technology consultants to help with everything from technical support to leading a team charged with improving the organization’s e-commerce strategy.

Achieving optimal results from this practice, however, requires advance planning and effective management. What follows are some strategies that can help you maximize success:

Get your employees involved. Before contacting a staffing firm, let your internal IT staff know why you’re hiring a project professional and how doing so might benefit them.

For instance, a consultant may transfer his or her knowledge of network security principles to employees who do not already possess it or assist with the pressing demands of an upcoming systems upgrade. Solicit staff input on any special skills or qualifications they think will be essential for a consultant’s success.

Since your employees are on the front lines, they may have valuable insight as to exactly what is needed. You may discover, for instance, that your group would prefer to bring in someone who can lead a back-end Web development project rather than perform hands-on .NET development work.

Set clear objectives. As with all projects, achieving the best results when working with a staffing firm depends on proper planning. Draft a document detailing the scope of the project, the consultant’s responsibilities, his or her role within the department and organization, and any unique requirements of the assignment, such as occasional weekend work.

Remember to incorporate the feedback received from your team. This outline will serve as a point of reference for your contact at the staffing firm, enabling him or her to identify appropriate consulting professionals.

Select the right partner. Identifying the best staffing service for your department’s unique requirements is a critical step, so be sure to evaluate each contender carefully.

You should be confident the firm has the experience, expertise and connections to find appropriately skilled IT professionals for your projects. Look for firms that clearly spell out their fees, billing arrangements and procedures, and that have a strong track record in your market and industry. Referrals from colleagues, professional associations or your local chamber of commerce are excellent starting points.

Invite your contact to your firm. Once you have selected a firm, ask your primary contact to attend an on-site meeting at your company. Provide a tour of your office and introduce the person to staff members who will be working closely with the consultant.

The better your staffing-provider understands your organization’s corporate culture and goals, the more effective he or she will be at providing you with IT professionals who will excel in your environment.

Be candid. Give your contact as much information as possible about your consulting needs. Be open about any special requirements or potential challenges. For instance, the project professional might need to report to a manager who prefers frequent project updates and interaction. Or there may be difficult deadlines to meet.

Offering a complete overview of the situation will allow the staffing professional to look for a consultant who has a track record of thriving under similar conditions.

You also should form a written agreement with your staffing firm detailing project expectations, how changes to those plans will be handled, under what conditions either party can back out, and, if applicable, any copyright or ownership issues involved with work provided by the consultant.

Stay in touch. Once a consultant has joined your company, maintain open communication with your staffing firm. Let your contact know how the IT professional is performing on the job so appropriate recognition or changes can be made in a timely manner.

Also, provide feedback on the staffing firm’s performance: Is your contact providing you with qualified consultants? Is the staffing professional proactive in calling you, or do you have to initiate most communication?

The more open you are about any problems, the easier it will be to correct them before they affect your ability to meet project demands. At the same time, sharing what is going well can serve as indication to the staffing service that it is on the right track.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.