Identify a specific project for a consultant to work on -- Select a particular area for the consultant to work on. The more specific, the better. Have a plan and don't wait for the consultant to define his or her work. Give the consultant a place to work and all resources for the person to succeed and get the job done. If you have many goals, prioritize it and give the consultant the more important one to work on. When the consultant seems scatter-brained, he/she may be working on too many things at the same time, so clarify the main goal and help the person focus.
Setup timelines and deliverables -- Determine a reasonable timeline and get reports and updates regularly, at least once a week. Double check that the project and goals set for the consultant are being met and worked on. It's very easy to get side-tracked and to focus on something else. Be sure the consultant is on target and not just following someone else's ideas or requests, which is easy to do. Consultants want to be accepted and liked and while they do that, they may be too willing to work on areas that are not that important.
Take advantage of the consultant's "fresh eyes" -- One of the main advantages of a consultant is to give nonprofits the benefit of his/her experience and background. This person is not supposed to agree with you all the time. Expect and consider ideas, processes and recommendations made by a consultant, especially when he/she is new and hasn't been "tainted" by group-think or politics. In addition, after a while it gets easier to accept things that at one point seemed odd or non-functional. If you see this going on, ask about ideas from the person's past that could be used, and remind the consultant about his/her value as "fresh eyes."
Value your employees -- Last, but not least, listen to your employees. It's too easy to assume consultants are "all that" and forget that the employees should also be considered. Don't take the consultant's side right away if there is a conflict with one of the employees. Remember that the employee will be there after the consultant leaves, and you need to show that you have his/her back. I have seen executives lose good people because of this problem -- just because someone is an outsider, doesn't mean that he/she is a god. Get some perspective here.
Finally, consider consultants as helpers that can do a lot of good to many nonprofits when utilized properly. Beware of consulting firms that start to hire your employees -- the idea may be to make you so dependent on them that they never leave. Don't fall for that. I have seen this happening in the IT department of a large nonprofit that slowly kept losing employees to the point that the consulting firm became the IT department and that was not a good thing. Remember -- you're the boss.
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