Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: I appointed consultants to help with a project. We are about half way through and I'm not happy with their work to date. Should I sack them?

Your predicament is certainly undesirable, but it is by no means unusual or irretrievable.

Employing consultants often feels like an easy solution when there are not enough of you to go around.

Although this may be true, the activities of appointment, briefing and ongoing liaison with the consultants are time-consuming in themselves when we are busy (when are we not?). The temptation is to do the minimum to get the project live and leave it in the hands of the consultants.

I fear this is what has happened in your case.

Start afresh

Assuming you wish to retain the consultants on the project, you need to start afresh with them. Speak to them - discuss progress and your concerns in a constructive manner. No doubt they will have their own thoughts on this - it is unlikely to come as a surprise to them. Be clear that you want to refocus the project but also to retain them.

Together you need to take time to redefine the project.

- Look at the project brief - do you have a shared vision of desired outputs and project methodology?

- Has there been a case of project creep? You and your team need to be disciplined now and throughout the project to get the most from the consultants' time.

- Do they understand your business? More context and background may be necessary. Benefits could be gained from them meeting more of your staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and trustees.

- What are the agreed milestones and sign-offs for you to approve work along the way? Are there standards you expected them to reach that need to be reiterated explicitly?

These will rebuild your confidence and trust in their expertise as the project progresses.

Personalities

It might help to bring new personalities from both sides into this phase of redefinition. If the relationship has really suffered, you may wish to request a new project leader from the consultancy and consider putting a new team member in the lead at your end.

When all is said and done, however, if you need to cut your losses, ensure you have all work to date documented and that you serve appropriate notice to terminate contracts.

You will also need to renegotiate payment schedules - and you should do this even if you continue with the consultants.

Whatever path you take, learn the lessons of up-front investment. A stitch in time saves nine.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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