Overcoming the Hesitancies of Working with a Consulting Firm

consulting team meeting around conference table

Hiring “outsiders” to perform critical work can be a tough decision because so much is at stake. Their performance, your reputation, your organization’s bottom line and success – it all plays into whether and how to look outward for capital program support. Understanding the roots of concerns about working with a consulting firm is crucial to overcoming them and enabling improved, results-focused approaches.

Top Reasons Why Committing to Consulting is a Challenge

A variety of hurdles may be inhibiting individuals or organizations from embracing consulting services:

Fear of the Unknown

This is common when direct experience with consulting firms is lacking. Stories of consulting misfortunes overshadow accolades for the preponderance of successful engagements, which can negatively, and unfairly, skew expectations. With the right preparation and partner, this fear can prove unfounded, especially when working with a consulting firm that is well-versed in navigating these challenges.

Fear of Looking Bad

Will calling for help be perceived as weakness? What if your business (your “baby”) isn’t as finely tuned as you thought it was? In reality, continuous improvement efforts are signs of leadership, not inferiority, and should always be encouraged.

Fear of Giving Up Power and Control

“We’ve always done it this way and it works” does not mean it works perfectly well or is adequately scalable. Agility, adaptability, and operational excellence requires an openness to new ideas and fresh approaches, particularly when working with a consulting firm to rethink established paradigms.

Cost / Benefit Skepticism

How will the consulting be funded, are the costs recoverable, and is the executive support sustainable? These valid concerns can be assuaged by consulting firms with a demonstrable value proposition, proven experience, and suitability for the tasks at hand.

Time Constraints

Lean operations have no time to spare for consultant interviews or extraneous work that is considered invasive. Though the thought of having employees pulled away when you are too busy to slow down can be disconcerting, skilled consultants can limit the imposition to hours instead of weeks, and the return on the time invested is invaluable.

Fixed Mindsets about the Workforce

Some believe that people must be physically present in the office to work effectively, whether based locally, relocated to town, or commuting in regularly for meetings. The upside of the pandemic is an enhanced understanding of the power of a remote workforce to improve operational efficiency and productivity and drive down costs.

When is External Assistance Advantageous?

Suppose a Project Management Office staffed to support a $300M per year budget plans a capital project increase to $600-700M for the next five years, before returning to a $300M budget. Where will the additional resources for the five-year period come from? Should they hire permanent staff members whose talents won’t be needed after that five-year period? Is their infrastructure sufficiently scalable to support that large of an employee base? Or should they look outside for temporary assistance?

This is an obvious example but there are additional, more nuanced scenarios, such as when a specific skill set, degree of expertise, or regional presence are lacking internally.

Control of functional outsourcing engagements can be tailored to existing preferences and capabilities. In the case of a power plant, hybrid staff augmentation allows the plant to keep the same consulting personnel for a five-year period and is responsible for their day-to-day work management and oversight, though they remain employees of the consulting firm.

The other option is delegating responsibility to the consulting firm for project management, project controls, staffing, scheduling, day-to-day management, and oversight for the five-year program, and receiving monthly updates from the firm.

Sometimes adequate resources are available internally but the approach to doing capital projects could use improvement. Consulting firms can bring in fresh perspectives and specific expertise about methodologies, processes such as scheduling and budgeting, how to consolidate data for reporting and optimize executive dashboards, and much more.

With this strategic consulting service, the consultants will perform an in-person assessment of the plant’s existing operations and procedures, including conducting employee interviews, analyzing how the operation works, performing industry benchmarking, and getting management to verbalize what they want to change. Then, they create a road map to get the plant to that next level.

Are Staffing Agencies a Feasible Alternative?

Staffing firms may be a suitable choice for certain short-term staff augmentation needs but capital programs typically require dedicated, expert resources for longer terms. Consider that staffing firm employee tenures average only about nine months, and the agencies lack the internal structure to support skills development, networking, and knowledge sharing among fellow employees. In addition, concerns about co-employment arise when staffing engagements exceed 12 months.

By contrast, consulting firm personnel remain employees of the firm, eliminating the complexities of co-employment rules and regulations. Consulting firm personnel turnover is much less frequent than staff firms. Talent at consulting firms is often retained for years, if not decades, and their knowledge and experience is enhanced and stacked, year over year.

At PFES, we’re proud of our retention rate. Many of our consultants have been with the company from day one. We have active engagements with multiple utilities and enterprises around the world, providing an information flow of best practices, benchmarking, and methodology that fuels process improvements and bolsters our program leadership. Moreover, you can choose whether we use your systems and methodologies or ours.

What to Look for in a Third-party Partner

When comparing and evaluating potential partners, consider including the following questions in your interview checklist:

  • Where are they currently doing similar types of work?
  • What is the size and scope of their current customer programs or projects?
  • Are they familiar with working in your geographic region and the nuances of the regional regulators?
  • What methodologies are they experienced with, and is yours included?
  • What software programs are they experienced with, and is yours included?
  • Do they have the same ideology as your company?
  • What differentiators and value-added services does the firm provide?
  • Do they have minority spend initiatives and do their vendors, sub-vendors, or partners qualify?
  • What experience and skill sets do their functional teams and internal employees have?
  • How will they minimize the invasiveness of the consulting assessment?

Making strategic investments in functional outsourcing or consulting services is bound to provide beneficial outcomes if you can overcome the initial hesitancies. Selecting the most suitable partner to meet targeted goals is the key to optimizing safety, quality, and your business results.

The Perfect Consulting Partner

Our team consists of industry heavyweights that bring substantial expertise to the table for our clients. We partner with you to reduce risk and uncertainty in your capital projects, delivering initiatives on time with significant cost savings while meeting industry and safety standards. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

by John Brown, Senior Director of Business Development, PFES

May 9, 2024
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