When leaders talk about their “team” at work, what do they really mean? Ten years ago when we talked about “teams” we really meant “employees,” but teams look much different today. Instead of mostly employees with a few outside agencies and partners sprinkled in, teams are getting more complex.
Successful leaders need to think about today’s talent team as a “clover” — a mix of employees, key agencies, consultants, and contractors. The clover flexes and changes constantly based on key projects and initiatives. As teams have changed, managing the talent mix has gotten a lot more complicated. Many managers and leaders know they should be working with contract talent, but don’t know how.
As an independent, you have the opportunity to teach clients how to make the most of freelancers. These tips will help you help clients think differently about how they source talent and will ultimately not only bring you more work opportunities, but also build respect and credibility with your partners. (You could even just send them this article! Just saying…)
Here are five ways to make sure outside consultants have the support and information they need to hit the ground running and contribute quickly.
Clarify Goals for the Consultant
When they decide to hire a consultant, the client likely has a project they need help with or a role that needs to be filled. Consultants can be a powerful force on a team, but we aren’t magicians — freelancers can’t make everything instantly better if they aren’t provided with clear goals.
Get very specific about the consultant’s goals:
- What project will they be focused on delivering? Or, what role will they fill?
- What do you want them to accomplish, on what timeline?
- How will you measure progress and success?
As a consultant, make sure you have (or get) the answers to all of those questions before you start, and have continuous conversations about progress toward these goals.
Prepare for the Consultant Before Their First Day
Here’s one of the biggest, most expensive mistakes companies make: They hire a consultant, sign the contract, then check the box and move on. They don’t think about that person’s workload or onboarding until the first day the consultant shows up in the office. They’re unprepared and end up scrambling to pull together everything the consultant needs to get started.
To maximize every moment of the consultant’s time (and the budget), plan ahead. Help your client think about everything you will need to hit the ground running. Before the your first day, make sure your client has prepared:
- All of the current information related to the work. This might include printed materials, historical data pulled from different databases, strategy decks, company background and reading material.
- A list of key people you'll need to talk to. Who are the internal stakeholders, customers, other consultants, agencies or partners that the consultant should get to know right away?
- The administrative tools you'll need to work at the organization. Don’t make a consultant wait two days for their computer and email address. Set up basic administrative tools ahead of time.
Schedule Time In Advance with Key Team Members
Relationships are crucial to a consultant’s success. Often, consultants need to meet with a long list of people before they can dig into the work. If it takes weeks (or months!) to get meetings on all of those people’s calendars, your contributions will be limited.
Let’s say Sarah is starting as a consultant on a market research project next month. The client needs to send an email to everyone who will work with Sarah. Introduce her, share why they're excited about her expertise and what she’s bringing to the team, and explain her core goals.
Then schedule time for Sarah on each person’s calendar and specify exactly what each person is expected to share or discuss during their meeting. Doing so in advance will help her get moving faster, and avoid long lag times because of vacations, travel, and busy schedules.
Provide Plenty of Context
Consultants bring expertise, but they’re often missing something just as important: context. If you've never worked with this client before, you'll need to know how decisions get made, how to navigate the organization, what internal language to use, and what values and priorities guide the team’s strategies.
For example, one client’s corporate strategy is based on five key pillars. In order to communicate priorities, everyone at the company talks in terms of those “pillars.” If a consultant leads a meeting and talks about “goals” or “objectives,” they won’t be heard in the same way. This rings true inside many organizations — if consultants don’t know and use the internal vocabulary, their otherwise great ideas may fall flat.
An organization might be prepared with a corporate glossary or an explainer for acronyms. But if they don’t have that resource, encourage them to make their own that explains the most important internal language. Most importantly, clients need to encourage their consultants to ask questions if they hear jargon they don’t understand. That context will help a consultant integrate quickly into the team and minimize confusion.
Be Open to an Outside Perspective
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, if your client has hired a consultant, they're probably looking for new ideas. As much as possible, help your client prepare for those ideas by encouraging them to keep an open mind. Many consultants start a project, bring in a new perspective, and are immediately shut down. It’s easy to say “that’s not how we do things here” or “that will never work.” Instead, set the expectatoin from the start that a consultant’s ideas will run a little counter to the status quo.
If managers can follow these steps, your freelance expertise will be able to shine through and you can make a positive impact from day one. It can be hard to do your work and help your client learn how to maximize freelance talent, but you will be paving the way not only for others in the freelance economy, but building trust and credibility with your client and providing the kind of value that keeps projects coming your way in the future.