There comes a time in the professional life of most CIOs when they \u2014 you \u2014 need to bring in a consultant.\n\nNot a contractor. That\u2019s someone with a defined set of skills you bring in to help with day-to-day tasks.\n\nWe\u2019re talking about someone with broad expertise and experience-based judgment you pay for good advice. Having spent time on both sides of the CIO\/consultant relationship I can say, with confidence, that a lot of CIOs don\u2019t know how to best work with us.\n\nTheir mistakes fall into three broad buckets: (1) What they ask for; (2) how they select a consulting partner; and (3) what they do with the advice their consultant gives them.\n\nConsultant selection: Who to avoid\n\nSome consultants don\u2019t wait until they\u2019ve gathered information about their client\u2019s situation. They know what they\u2019re going to recommend before the engagement starts (warning sign: they use the phrase \u201cbest practice\u201d a lot). Their process, such as it is, is a search for ammunition, not illumination.\n\nOther consultants to avoid are those who promise to \u201cdeliver measurable improvements.\u201d Unwary CIOs pounce on this offer without thinking to ask who decides which metric to improve.\n\nExample: a company I worked with that brought in a process improvement consultant. The consultant cut a key process\u2019s cycle time by more than 80%. It was an outstanding outcome, whose ointment was marred by just one tiny fly: The changes that reduced cycle time also damaged throughput \u2014 by about 75%. And as the cycle time reduction affected low-cost employees while the throughput reduction affected highly compensated professionals, the \u201cimprovement\u201d increased unit cost by a factor of four as well.\n\nIt was a very expensive measurable improvement.\n\nNext in our pantheon of consultants to avoid are those who promise to \u201cdiscover\u201d low-hanging fruit.\n\nI promise you \u2014 if the fruit is low-hanging, every employee who\u2019s anywhere near the orchard has already identified it, recommended a course of action, and had their recommendation rejected a long time ago.\n\nHere\u2019s how consultant low-hanging-fruit-picking works: (1) The consultant asks employees what needs to be done; (2) employees share their knowledge; and (3) the consultant copies-and-pastes their ideas into the final report. As you might imagine, this process does not boost employee morale.\n\nConsultant selection: What not to ask for\n\nThen there are mistakes CIOs make when screening potential consulting alternatives.\n\nSome CIOs know the \u201cright\u201d answer. They know what they want the consultant to recommend. They might not even recognize that this is what they\u2019re asking for, but they\u2019re asking for it, nonetheless. A common example is, \u201cCan you help us build a business case for x?\u201d Consultants who want a follow-up engagement understand, in no uncertain terms, that \u201cThis idea doesn\u2019t make business sense,\u201d is not an acceptable finding.\n\nIf you know the right answer and just want someone to confidently and convincingly repeat it back to everyone attending the final presentation, consider engaging someone from a nearby university\u2019s drama department. Actors cost less than consultants and you can count on them to stick to the script.\n\nAnother worst practice in consultant selection: Be vague about where the bull\u2019s-eye is, but explicit about how the consultant is supposed to choose an arrow, fletch it, stand, aim, draw back the bowstring, and take the shot.\n\nAny consultant worth engaging has a methodology that works. If you don\u2019t like it, choose someone else. Otherwise, be clear about what success looks like and give the consultant the latitude to achieve it.\n\nAnother popular mistake is asking how many previous clients the consulting firm has delivered the requested service to. It\u2019s a mistake because it doesn\u2019t matter. What does matter: how many members of the promised project team have done it before.\n\nAnd oh, by the way, sometimes you want the answer to be \u201cnone.\u201d That\u2019s the right answer when you want something truly innovative. It isn\u2019t innovative if lots of other companies are already doing it, whatever it is.\n\nOne more qualification: Require that at least one member of the project team has spent part of their career in IT management. You don\u2019t want that perspective to dominate the team dynamics, but it will give you confidence that its recommendations take into account the challenges you face every day.\n\nUsing the results\n\nTypically, the point of a consulting engagement is to provide a plan of action for addressing a problem or chasing an opportunity. Far too often, CIOs start down this path even though they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they\u2019ll never persuade the executive leadership team to fund the plan of action.\n\nThe consultant\u2019s recommendations are DOA before their engagement even launches.\n\nSmart CIOs get a commitment \u2014 bracketed by reasonable assumptions \u2014 that the program defined by the consulting project\u2019s plan of action will be budgeted.\n\nAnd in the same vein, smart CIOs insist that included in the consulting project\u2019s deliverables will be the program, initiative, and\/or project charters needed to begin executing that plan of action.\n\nYou just made your consultant the expert in what you ought to do. Take as much advantage of that expertise as you can.