Consultants solve problems and provide answers. Right?
Well, in an ideal world, yes.
But the answers may not be worth the price tag if the organization that's doing the hiring fails to do its homework or fails to do it properly.
That's the message from Charles Wainwright III, program director of the U.S. Army-Baylor University Graduate Program in Healthcare Administration in San Antonio, and John Hyde II, an associate professor of healthcare systems at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. They will pass it along to attendees at their ACHE seminar, "How to De-mystify the Consulting Experience." The seminar will be held at 10: 30 a.m. and at 2: 15 p.m. on Tuesday, March 28.
Wainwright will tackle the issue from the perspective of the customer, which in this case is the healthcare organization, and Hyde will offer advice from the consultant's point of view.
"The more homework they put in upfront, the better the outcome will be," Wainwright says.
In some cases, a large consulting firm with expert national credentials is needed to solve a problem, while in other cases, a small firm with a better grasp of local issues may be preferable, he says.
The seminar will offer consulting examples from various areas of healthcare administration. Some topics Hyde and Wainwright plan to address include human-resource management, information management, new product lines and strategic management.
Hyde, who in addition to being a professor has been a consultant for the past seven years and a hospital administrator before that, says the consultant's efforts suffer if the client doesn't provide specific information upfront.
"A lot of people engage and hire consultants, but there's very much of a disconnect between the employer and the consultant, a misunderstanding of what the product is and what it should be."
He says the seminar will try to help attendees understand the consulting process and the basic reasons for contracting with a consulting firm. It will also identify essential elements for the successful employment of a consultant. In addition, the seminar will explain how to select a consulting firm and how to structure an appropriate contract. Finally, it will specify what is needed for the consultant to provide the appropriate product.
"It's hard to give someone marching orders when you haven't given them good directions and you're not sure exactly what you want," says Hyde.
Wainwright says the healthcare administrator seeking a consultant must first confront the problems or challenges that the consultant will be asked to take on.
"If you don't do your homework, what you get is whatever the consultant's view of the world is," he says. Also important to a satisfying outcome is the successful negotiation of an appropriate pay scale. If the consultant is to be paid on an hourly basis, the client should make sure each hour is a productive one. And contracts can be structured to include withholding of pay or guarantees to ensure that the final payment is predicated upon successful completion of the job, Wainwright says.
He compares the consulting process to a marriage between the organization and the consultant.
"You've got to help to get the best product you can," he says.