Tucked away in the middle of the Latin Quarter of New Orleans is a hole in the wall dedicated to music. Not just any music, but jazz as it was played way back when. "Nawlins" is full of songs and this band knows them all. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band loves what it does. The plaster is barely hanging onto the walls. There is no sound system. Most of the people squeezed into the small space have to stand, but nobody cares. It's all about the music. Listening to it, I was struck by how happy it sounded, even when they were playing the blues.
After the show was over, we moved to a bar down the street. Also dedicated to jazz, this bar had polished tables, a stage for the band and a full sound system. But somehow the band just didn't seem to have that same passion for the music. They were all great musicians. The quality was good, but it looked to me like they were just doing their job.
Consulting is like that. At the end of the day, you don't hire a firm, you hire a person or a team. If they have passion for what they do, then they will put in the extra effort to find the best fit between you and your accounting system.
So how can you tell the difference?
Most firms will claim to be passionate about what they do. Usually, it's true. One or more people working there will truly have that extra drive. The question is, will they be on your project?
Here are some tips:
- Before you agree to hire the consultants, meet the people who will be on your team. If the team is changed, you need the right to approve the new people.
- Ask about experience with your industry / size of firm / geographic location. Make sure it's not just the consulting firm who has that experience, but it's also the team members.
- Follow up on customer references. Ask the other customer about how well the team worked as well as the accounting system. Ask them what they would do differently the next time.
- Passion is an emotion. Ask the proposed consulting team to describe other jobs they have worked on. Look for clues in their words, voice and body language. Are they enthusiastic? Do they embrace challenges? Is their language clear and direct? Can they talk intelligently about other, similar projects?
One thing: you have a major responsibility too. If you are not passionate about what you do, how can you expect an external consultant to be passionate? If you delay the project, how can you expect the consulting firm to hold the consultants until you are ready? If you are not clear about what you need, how can you expect a successful result?