Selecting a Consultant

Guidelines to Follow By John Maxwell, CAIS, CID

Several times a year I get a predictable phone call. The caller begins by telling me about his problem. I ask questions, such as what are the results he is looking for and what methods have been used in an attempt to achieve those results. Most of the time these potential clients have talked to several other consultants before reaching out to me. My goal is to quickly establish if I can help and if we are a good fit.

There are many irrigation designers who have been designing systems for years. I have observed, however, that there is a disparity between designing systems and ensuring that those systems achieve the results that the grower needs. One company, with whom I am very familiar, has designed and installed thousands of acres of irrigation systems. Routinely clients ask me to evaluate the systems that this company designed to determine why they are not operating as they should. This company knows how to design a system; however, they do not have the knowledge nor the desire to implement what is needed to meet the farmer’s needs.

How to Avoid Low-Quality Consultants

When looking to hire a consultant, how do you find one who is professional in both knowledge and service? Whatever the field, these principles will apply.

Insightful Questions to Ask

1. What have you been reading recently? If someone isn’t reading current industry- related publications and information, he probably isn’t learning or growing in his profession. If he isn’t learning, he is losing. It could be slowly — but losing, nonetheless.

2. What is the last training/industry event you attended? In our industry, the Irrigation Association provides fantastic learning events. The consultant you want is one who attends conferences, continuing to learn and develop skills. If money is the reason for not attending these events, I can assure the consultant that by not learning, money will soon become more of a concern.

3. What is your experience in the industry? Combined with the previous questions, this one truly shows how much knowledge the consultant has. For example, consider the following two scenarios. One option could be a consultant who is new to the industry and heavily investing in learning, yet he still might not have what it takes to be the right person for you. The second option could be a consultant who has been working in his field for over 30 years yet isn’t making the effort to continue learning. He also might not be able to offer the help you need if he is just a standard do-it-as- it’s-always-been-done kind of person. I have risen to be one of the premier drip irrigation consultants in the United States because I am willing to challenge the way that “it has always been done.” If I can calculate and prove it will work, we will give it a try. Because I am young and fairly new to the industry, I am agile and willing to adapt. To date, I have not come across a challenge that does not have a solution. Your consultant just has to stay open-minded and willing to investigate other options.

4. What was the hardest problem you recently solved? If a consultant cannot come up with an example of a difficult challenge and its solution, how do you know that he will be able to come up with a creative solution to your challenge? In other words, is he a good troubleshooter? This leads to an important point: I believe the most effective consultant will be able to troubleshoot your problem. Troubleshooting is the art of systematically working through a challenge to develop a solution.

20 Irrigation TODAY | January 2017

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