The Value to Clients of Repeat Consulting Engagements
Millennia is always pleased to work with clients on a recurring basis, and some of our relationships go back as long as two decades. Sometimes we are called on repeatedly to do similar expert work - such as strategic planning or developing complex applications for funding. Sometimes we provide services on a more cost-effective basis than hiring a staff person, as in the case of one organization that uses a Millennia consultant as an "outsourced organizational development department." Whatever the nature of the work, we welcome recurrences. This is not only because of the increased business or the client satisfaction that such engagements imply, but because ongoing consulting relationships often lead to the best interpersonal, institutional, and knowledge-based outcomes for clients.
We Can Build Relationships
When we work frequently with clients, we develop relationships that contribute to enhanced efficiency and effectiveness. Trust and buy-in are critical to all engagements and often take time to develop. With repeat clients, the consultant already has developed relationships. Board members, staff and leadership already feel comfortable with the consultant and have experienced the positive outcomes of earlier engagements, leading to a streamlined understanding of, and confidence in, the consulting process.
Millennia's Brenda Bannor - who often assists clients with strategic planning and community development initiatives involving health care - describes the benefits of "trust" this way: "When working with long-term clients, the consultant is able to bring to each new assignment an intimate knowledge of the history and the culture of the organization. The consultant can walk into an organization and see familiar faces, share in inside jokes, and feel part of the organizational culture. This means that the consultant can jump right in and begin working on key strategic issues and asking the hard questions without any transition or 'getting to know you time.'"
Trust has other impacts. Wendy Siegel - who provides strategic planning and organizational development services - notes that trust may result in "clients feeling they can share confidential information. A long-term relationship means that I can help clients figure out the underlying 'real' issues - which may lead to projects going in a different direction than what was initially proposed."
In projects that are focused on work outputs on tight deadlines - such as the work of Millennia's David Steven Rappoport, who often assists clients with complex, high dollar proposals for funding - knowing the people has different benefits: "Learning how an organization is structured, how people in it work, and who has expertise in what areas may be critical to project success. Similarly, an understanding of individual staff strengths often leads to a better product."
Sometimes relationships continue from job to job across organizations. David cites an ongoing relationship with a senior public sector executive who has hired him to do similar fund development projects at different institutions as the executive's career has progressed.
We Get to Know Your Organizational Culture
An awareness of institutional culture and priorities is also essential. David remarks "My work is always deadline-driven. I find it very helpful to learn over time the best way to work with established systems to obtain needed results quickly."
An understanding of an institution's evolution over time enables the consultant to monitor past and current thinking, assessments, decisions, and action plans. This enables to consultant, in the guise of "keeper of the collective record," to keep the focus appropriately on areas of concern, and avoid timely and unproductive reconsiderations of previous concerns, decisions, and agreements. Similarly, this long-term knowledge can ease needed shifts in response to emergent opportunities or threats. When a housing organization expanded their services statewide, Mirja Hanson - who is an expert in strategic planning and facilitation - provided continuity in implementation as stakeholders and partners joined and changed during a four-year project process.
Also, every planning process includes an action plan to help the client "make things happen on the ground," implementation momentum, speed and success is greatly increased if the consultant is able to support project implementation as well as design. Institutions that know and trust consultants are typically more willing to make such investments in comprehensive services. A case-in-point: Everyone in a branch of a consumer protection institution agreed on the strategic imperative to intensify "inter-silo" collaboration in order to reach new business and consumer markets. Acknowledging that old habits are challenging to change, the Millennia consultant was retained to continue with plan implementation and work with five departments to operationalize cross-functional marketing mechanisms in a timely fashion. The pay-offs were evident in the marketing metrics the next year.
We Can Bring Content Knowledge
In addition to supporting strategic and operational decision-making processes, fund development, or other activities, a long-term consultant is able to provide targeted content advice related to applicable project, management or organization development concepts. Mirja notes that "when I am in a long-term relationship with an organization, I keep an eye on resources, tools, trends and models that are particularly applicable to addressing their strategic issues or guiding their organizational development and directions. I am able to provide phone coaching, act as a sounding board and provide advice to organization leaders."
Mirja continues: "In many instances, a local or statewide organization has operational linkages and co-dependencies with their parent organization, industry association and partner/peer organization(s). If they find that my consulting approach, service and results have delivered value and fit the culture of the profession or field, I have been referred to related organizations. Having a working knowledge of a given field/industry allows me to get up to speed quickly and assist with system-wide planning, problem-solving, partnership development and initiatives."
Sometimes the value-added aspect of knowing the operating environment emerges in unexpected ways. David remembers working on a large federal application for an agency in a rural state. Some available data could not be used. The numbers, even though aggregated, were so small in some counties that it was unclear that if the data were used, the individuals represented could not be identified - a violation of federal regulations. David worked closely with state officials to find a work around with substitute data sets.
For all of these reasons, long-term consulting relationships can bring deeper rewards than non-recurring interventions.
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