There are many risk management consultants around, and it is not easy to choose the right one for your business. It is easy to spend a lot of money without getting the result you need, but this is not always the consultant’s fault. Although stereotyping any professionals can be misleading, you may find that thinking in terms of the following categories will help you in your search.
1. Do you need a specialist or a generalist? As it is obvious that a generalist does not know everything about everything, it is tempting to assume that you are better off with someone with specialist knowledge about your industry. That could be the case if the risks you are mainly concerned about are very technical and you need someone with knowledge of engineering, the environment, or aviation for example. On the other hand, you may the technical knowledge within your business, but need advice in managing the risks. There is also the danger that the specialist will become too absorbed in the technical issues to think about the bigger picture or the way different risks affect one another, so that reducing one can increase another. What you probably need is someone who understands the business at least as much as understanding the technology or science, and who can communicate with you in normal English!
2. Do you need an external or internal consultant? There may be people in your own organisation who could act as consultants to another department, or even to the business as a whole. The advantages are that they probably cost less than external consultants and can hit the ground running because of their existing knowledge of your business. The drawbacks are that they may command less respect, rightly or wrongly, and that any criticisms they may appear to make of other managers could lead to ongoing relationship problems in your business. They may also be too close to the problems and lack the objectivity of external consultants.
3. Do you need answers or questions? You may think you want someone to come along and give you the answers you are looking for, whereas in fact some consultants are experts at asking questions rather than answering them. You may find that you knew the answers all the time but had been asking yourself the wrong questions. After all, it is likely that nobody understands your business as well as you do. When a consultant leads you via a series of questions to the solution you were looking for, possibly setting out a number of options on the way, you often find it is particularly effective, because you know how and why you arrived there, and you will make the solution work because you “own” it, instead of feeling it is what someone else has told you.
You can probably see that there is no all-purpose ideal consultant. What matters is finding the one who best meets your needs and those of your business at this time. So think carefully about the above three questions and try to decide first what you want and need before trying to decide who can best advise you on managing the risks you are trying to deal with. Do not be afraid to tell your risk management consultants that you think they are not the right ones for a particular exercise: most would rather lose a client than have a dissatisfied one. Here’s hoping you find the right one.