Growth Insights for CEOs

CEOs: The 7 C's of Hiring Management Consultants

Posted by Pete Hayes


Since Christopher McKenna signaled the rise of ‘The World’s Newest Profession’ by publishing his book in 2006, the trend towards hiring and deploying management consultants has only been on the rise. But how does a CEO go about it? Surely it’s not the same process and set of qualities you’d look for in an executive hire?

It turns out there are both obvious and subtle differences. Here are the 7 critical dimensions or qualities to assess when hiring a management consultant for your business:

#1 Credibility – Does their resume demonstrate success and maturity?

#2 Capability – How relevant is their experience to your needs?

#3 Curiosity – Do they dig out insights, or come in with answers?

#4 Courage – Will they speak up, even when unpopular?

#5 Chemistry – Do YOU get along with them?

#6 Culture – How do they fit in with your management team, and others?

#7 Company – Is there back-up? Are they part of a firm? Pre-vetted?


#1 Credibility Does their resume demonstrate success, progression and business maturity?

This is probably the easiest box to check, or not. Looking at their LinkedIn profile or their firm’s online bio, do you get a sense of their accomplishments? Have they held appropriate senior titles in large enough firms to have developed the experiences and “scare tissue” to allow them to quickly add value to your business? In addition, when looking at their profile, don’t ignore the subtle signals of confidence vs. cockiness. For example, how clearly and crisply do they share relevant information? Or are they self-absorbed and overly self-promoting? What do they love more, the business impact they’ve driven or themselves? If you decide to move forward, make note of any potential areas of concern, not just in their backgrounds but in how they present themselves.

#2 Capability How relevant is their experience to your needs?

Okay, you’ve determined you have a highly impressive candidate. Your next step is to determine how relevant their experience is to your business and the challenges you are facing. For example, your candidate may have a track record in very large companies; does that translate to your company situation? Can they get their hands dirty and dig in, not simply sit back and offer observations? The best management consultant candidates will give you a sense of wholeness to the value they will provide, not only having ideas but having operational experience to guide initiatives through to completion. Also, you may be best served by looking for someone best suited to solve your challenges, and this person may not be someone from your industry. In this case, your executive team brings the industry experience, and your management consultant brings a missing skill-set as well as a fresh perspective.         

#3 Curiosity Do they dig out insights, or come in with answers?

Charlie Green, the top contributing author of best-selling book ‘The Trusted Advisor’ once shared with me the most important quality of a consultant. I’d asked him if there even was such a quality, a killer attribute that would signal the potential success of management consultant. He said, “Yes, and we have 10,000 data points to prove it: Curiosity.” Charlie went on to explain that their online surveys of some 10,000 consultants over a decade indicated that curiosity was indeed the attribute or quality that would determine a consultant’s success. At that moment, it became the top criteria we’d look for in our own hiring.

It makes complete sense, doesn’t it? If your management consultant is curious about you, your business, your processes, your markets, your challenges, and so on, they’re going to help you dig into your situation and dig out the answers. 

Curiosity is a leading indicator for two other related qualities – humility and hunger. These are two of the three pillars in Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The Ideal Team Player’. In short, you’re likely to have a higher likelihood of collaboration and integration with your management team if your candidate demonstrates humility (thinks less of themselves) and hunger (an honest passion for your business).

#4 Courage Will they speak up, even when unpopular? 

While it’s often difficult to tell in the interview process how much organizational courage a management consultant candidate may have, it’s important to recognize the value it will provide, and try to sniff it out ahead of hiring. Specifically, will this individual tell you the truth, even when it may not be comfortable to do so? Will they be the one in the room to take a risk, and point out issues that others would rather ignore? This quality relates less to “boldness” and more to “vulnerability.” So, don’t mistake someone who is bold in their presence as someone who may have the courage you’re looking for. You’re looking for someone who will potentially sacrifice their credibility or political correctness by asking the tough questions or calling out misalignments. 

#5 Chemistry Do YOU get along with them?

This is obvious. But don’t shrug it off. If YOU don’t believe you have great chemistry with your management consultant, you’re likely to hinder the engagement from the start. Meaning, you won’t trust them, or want to spend time with them, you’ll challenge their questions, perhaps you’ll even be defensive. Make sure this is someone you want to be with and learn from. If not, don’t hire.

#6 Culture How do they fit in with your management team, and others? 

Yet, it’s not enough for you to have good chemistry with your management consultant. Your executive team – really, anyone in your company – needs to see this individual as a hire consistent with your company’s culture. When we hire a new management consultant at Chief Outsiders, we not only use a hiring process such as this, we also have each candidate write an essay to demonstrate their alignment (or not) to our core values

#7 Company Are they backed-up? Part of a firm? Pre-vetted? Proven?

While this is the #7 check point in this hiring profile, it takes us all the way back to the beginning. What kind of qualities in skills and services will make a management consultant the right fit for your company? And that includes whether they are a “single shingle” consultant, or part of a mid-sized firm, or one of the major enterprise consulting firms. Your selection may get back to finding the right industry fit, but there’s also affordability to consider (see this relevant article on what fractional CMOs cost).

One of the key advantages of hiring from a reputable firm is that you benefit from the firm’s pre-vetting of their roster. In addition, should a given consultant not work out for whatever reason, or if the skill set required shifts during the engagement, you’ll have other choices.

In our firm, one of the most valued features of our engagements are the Peer Reviews and Advisory Boards we establish for our clients. Each fractional CMO management consultant can tap a group of CMOs from our firm and conduct a Peer Review of their client’s core challenges as well as their thinking on how to approach them. The CMO’s peers then provide feedback and suggestions to improve the plan. Once completed, the peer review board becomes an Advisory Board for that CMO and client, ready to provide additional feedback as needed. One subtle benefit in this process is the client gets the perspective of expertise outside their core industry, thereby bringing best-practices to the forefront.

In conclusion, hiring a management consultant is a little different from making an executive hire. You’re looking for someone to quickly engage and add value. The alignment to your needs – and to your values – is critical to maximize your return from this strategic investment.


Topics: Fractional CMO, CEO Choices

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