Hiring & Working with a Strategic Planning Consultant

How to Get the Most Out of Working with a Strategic Planning Consultant

What Does a Strategic Planning Consultant Do?

It was once said that if you ask a consultant, “What time is it?”, the reply will be, “Let me see your watch.” 

This jab at the consulting community is somewhat well-earned. Too many have a reputation of only giving a client what they want vs. what they need. However, when it comes to strategic planning, outside consultants can play a crucial role in guiding organizations towards success—that is, if you hire the right one. 

A good strategic planning consultant works closely with their clients to assess the current state, identify opportunities and challenges, and develop a comprehensive strategic plan. They leverage their expertise and experience to provide valuable insights, objective analysis, and strategic recommendations. Consultants bring an external perspective, helping clients think critically and creatively to achieve their goals.

It’s also important to know what a consultant doesn’t do. They don’t dictate solutions or impose their own agenda. Instead, they collaborate with clients, engaging key stakeholders and facilitating productive discussions to ensure a shared understanding and commitment to the strategic plan. 

What About a Nonprofit Strategic Planning Consultant?

Nonprofit strategic planning consultants specialize in assisting nonprofit organizations in developing effective strategies to achieve their mission and goals. One key difference between nonprofit strategic planning consultants and their for-profit counterparts is the focus on social impact and mission-driven outcomes. Nonprofit consultants understand the importance of achieving social, environmental, or humanitarian goals while also addressing financial sustainability. 

Hiring a Strategic Planning Consultant

When hiring a strategic planning consultant, it’s important to be mindful of certain factors to ensure a fruitful partnership.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to thoroughly research potential consultants. Seek recommendations from trusted sources such as clients and vendors. Review their track record and assess their expertise in your industry or sector. Look for consultants who have experience working with organizations similar to yours, as they will better understand your unique challenges and opportunities.

While credentials and experience are important, it’s equally vital to assess the consultant’s approach and methodology. A good consultant should be a collaborative partner, actively listening to your organization’s needs and goals. Avoid consultants who come in with a one-size-fits-all approach or try to impose their own agenda without considering your organization’s specific context.

For example, I once worked with an organization that hired a consultant solely based on their impressive credentials. However, the consultant failed to grasp the organization’s culture and mission, resulting in a misalignment of strategies. The company was no further along after engaging with this consultant and found themselves having to start from scratch with a new one. 

Also, trust your instincts. A good strategic planning consultant should not only have the necessary expertise but also demonstrate strong communication skills, adaptability, and a genuine passion for your organization’s success. It’s important to have a good rapport with the consultant and feel confident in their ability to guide your organization through the strategic planning process.

Interview Questions for Strategic Planning Consultants

The process of interviewing and selecting a strategic planning consultant requires careful consideration and asking the right questions to ensure a good fit. Here is a list of seven specific and unique questions to ask a consultant before making a hiring decision:

  1. “Can you provide examples of successful strategic planning engagements you have led with organizations similar to ours? What was the core issue, and how did your work address the issue?”
  2. “How do you typically approach the strategic planning process? Can you walk us through the steps or framework you follow?”
  3. “How do you involve stakeholders in the strategic planning process?”
  4. “Can you share a specific example of a strategic planning engagement where you had to navigate challenges or resistance within the organization? How did you address it? What was the outcome?”
  5. “How do you ensure that the strategic plan aligns with our organization’s mission, vision, and values?”
  6. “What ongoing support do you provide after the strategic plan is developed to ensure it gets implemented?”
  7. “How do you measure the success and effectiveness of a strategic planning engagement?”

By asking these questions, you can gain valuable insights into the consultant’s expertise, approach, and compatibility with your organization’s needs. Remember to also listen to your instincts and assess how well you connect with the consultant on a personal and professional level.

How Much Does a Strategic Planning Consultant Cost?

Unfortunately, that’s kind of like asking, “How long is a piece of string?” The answer? “It depends.” Determining the cost of a strategic planning consultant involves several factors that contribute to the overall investment. 

One key consideration is the scope and complexity of the work. Consultants typically charge based on the level of effort required, including the size and complexity of the organization, the number of stakeholders involved, and the depth of the strategic planning process. For instance, a small nonprofit organization may require a less extensive engagement compared to a large multinational corporation.

The consultant’s experience and expertise also influence the cost. The rule of thumb is this: The more seasoned and experienced, the more expensive they’ll be. Consultants with a proven track record and specialized knowledge in your industry or sector often charge higher fees. Their expertise brings added value and insights to the strategic planning process, which can justify a higher investment. 

Additionally, consultants who offer additional services beyond the planning phase, such as implementation support or ongoing coaching, may have higher fees due to the extended commitment and resources they provide.

When considering consultant fees, it’s important to shift the focus from solely considering hours spent on the work to assessing the value they provide. Instead of fixating on the number of hours, think about the impact the consultant can make on your organization’s strategic planning process and the outcomes they can help you achieve. This is a much better approach for determining a strategic planning consultant’s ROI.

Getting the Most Out of Strategic Planning Consulting Services

Working successfully with a strategic consultant requires a collaborative and proactive approach from both the client and the consultant. To cultivate a fruitful relationship, you as the client have the following responsibilities:

  1. Establish clear communication: Open and transparent communication is the foundation of a successful consultant-client relationship. Clearly articulate your goals, expectations, and any specific challenges you are facing. Encourage the consultant to ask questions, seek clarification, and provide regular updates on their progress.
  2. Act as partners: Treat the consultant as a trusted partner rather than an outsider. Collaborate with them to develop strategies, address issues, and make informed decisions. Invite them in.
  3. Provide necessary resources: Ensure that the consultant has access to the information, data, and resources they need to effectively carry out their work. This includes sharing relevant documents, granting access to key stakeholders, and facilitating connections with internal teams. 
  4. Embrace change and adaptability: Recognize that strategic planning often involves change and may require adjustments to existing processes or structures. Arms open, not folded. 
  5. Commit to implementation: A successful consultant-client relationship extends beyond the planning phase. Make yourself and your team accountable for the implementation process and ensure the agreed-upon strategies are executed effectively. Assign responsibilities, set clear timelines, and establish accountability mechanisms to track progress.

Questions to Ask a Strategic Planning Consultant

Maybe you’ve started working with a strategic planning consultant, and you are unsure that the process is working the way it’s supposed to. Here are some questions you can ask after you’ve made your hiring decision.

  1. “What is the overall strategic plan timeline, and are we progressing according to the established milestones?” This question helps gauge if the consultant is adhering to expectations and if the project is progressing as expected.
  2. “What specific outcomes or deliverables should we expect at each stage of the strategic planning process?” Request clarity on the expected deliverables at different stages to evaluate if the consultant is providing the necessary outputs and if they align with your expectations.
  3. “How are you incorporating our organization’s unique challenges and objectives into the strategic plan?” Assess the consultant’s understanding of your organization’s specific context, and ensure they are tailoring their approach accordingly. This question helps ensure that the strategic plan is relevant and addresses your organization’s unique needs.
  4. “Are your methodologies or frameworks effectively guiding the strategic planning process?” Gain insight into the consultant’s approach and methodologies to assess their suitability and effectiveness for your organization. 
  5. “How are key stakeholders engaging in the process, and what steps are being taken to ensure their continued buy-in?” Stakeholder involvement and buy-in are crucial for successful implementation. Inquire about the consultant’s effectiveness in engaging key stakeholders and fostering their support throughout the process.
  6. “Can we review the metrics and indicators being used to measure progress and success?” Ask about the specific metrics or indicators they utilize to assess the impact and effectiveness of the strategic planning efforts. Make sure these are reviewed regularly.
  7. “When and how are we going to implement the strategic plan?” Determine how the consultant will assist in the implementation phase. Inquire about their role in supporting the execution of the plan, whether they provide guidance, and to what degree they will offer ongoing support or follow-up services.

Asking these questions will provide clarity on the consultant’s approach, progress, and alignment with your organization’s needs, helping you assess whether the process is on track and addressing any concerns you may have.

Schedule a Call with a Strategic Planning Consultant Today

I’m always happy to discuss these topics with any executive looking to implement a strategic planning process. If through a 30-minute phone call, I can help you gain clarity, I’d call it a win. So, feel free to contact me via email or our contact form, and we’ll set up at time to chat.