Five Signs You’re in The Wrong Consulting Relationship

As BrightVine’s Chief Fun Officer, I know how to have a good time. I’ve dedicated dog years to it – surfing Easton’s Beach in Newport, RI, skiing power days at Sunday River in Maine, Delivering Excellence for Good™ at top-tier non-profits across the United States…

Conversely, I also know what can ruin a good time. And nothing spoils a good time faster than inviting the wrong kennel mates to your party, digging in the yard, begging at the table, stealing food off the counters, chewing inappropriate objects, barking at the doorbell…

The same is true for software implementation projects. Invite the wrong professional services team and it ruins the fun – overpriced, inexperienced resources, poor quality deliverables, schedule overruns, and blown budgets. Ultimately, you can wind up with a technology implementation that fails to support your fundraising activities and doesn’t further your mission.

So here are five signs you’re in a bad consulting services relationship, how to recognize it, and what to do to get it get back on track. I know, I know – this is relationship advice from a dog – but we are (wo)man’s best friend for a reason…

1. You feel the need to change who you are to make your consultants happy.

We all change a bit when we’re exposed to a new partner and their individual tastes — you binge-watch an entire season of “Dog Whisperer” because your boyfriend loves it or attempt to switch from wet to dry food for a night because your girlfriend has been doing it for years (keyword: attempt). It only becomes a real issue when you feel the need to change who you are or where your mission is focused.

Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist (CCRT), D.O. Geesensai says, “If you edit what you do before you do it and constantly monitor how you come across because you feel like your consultant is grading you, it might be time to let the relationship go.”

In one recent example, he cites a situation where a well-respected, leading organization was forced to switch project SharePoint repositories when their consultants refused to grant access to all their team members. That type of behavior drives reactions like, "Thanks for being a great partner. We have our own SharePoint we can use."

2. Nitpicking and criticism are constants in the relationship.

When your technical partner spends more time telling you everything your team do wrong, rather than work with you on solutions – you may need to look elsewhere. Challenges with business process, stakeholder buy-in and operational constraints are real obstacles that every non-profit faces. Great partners know this, and have ideas on how to make things work.

3. You’re always wondering what your consultant is up to when you’re not around.

Dogs trust, that it is what we do. But can you trust your consultant to do work for you when you’re not there (or more accurately – when they’re not there because they’re “working“ offsite)? When you worry about what your consultant is up to when you are not with them, it is worth more investigation.

Here’s a tip – take a look at what they’re doing when they are around. The Project Manager is a good place to start. Did they, as one client put it, just spend time “chilling and billing” during meetings? Did they “spend a full week 'on site' and hardly contribute anything? Did they “leave the room for hours and bill full-time?” Did you conclude they were “definitely working on other projects?” If this is your onsite experience, you can make a pretty safe bet on what happens when you (or should I say - they) aren’t around.

Having to raise questions or concerns about every deliverable, or hour billed, does not set up you for long term success. A good implementation partner will be in the boat with you – and discussions on effort and price will be fair and upfront. If you feel bullied, you are likely being bullied. So make sure you remember that you are the paying customer! That’s worth repeating. You are the customer! You deserve respect and a partner that you trust.

4. Your software life is seriously lacking.

A technical relationship shouldn’t be all about the software, but it needs to be somewhat about the software. If your Consultant is making the implementation about everything BUT the software, you should take a closer look.

Every tool has gaps and shortcomings, but if the bulk of your implementation is about what you have to change outside the software rather than what the software does for your mission, things may not be on track for your long term success.

5. Your consultant controls who you see and what you do.

This might be the biggest red flag of all. A good partner works WITH you and shares

both the successes and the challenges of the implementation. If you feel like every meeting is a sales pitch or a commercial, you are likely not getting the whole story.

Implementations are complicated, there are issues, and risks that need attention. Great partners will share these with you, recommend options and let you decide how to move forward. The end result of an implementation will be in your hands – not your partner’s – so don’t settle for only part of the picture.

In closing, while I am the Chief Fun Officer, I am still a dog and prefer the park to software. That said, I know about trust, good relationships and world class implementations in the nonprofit world. Just because I don’t talk, doesn’t mean I am not paying attention! Take some time to evaluate the people you are spending time with on your critical implementation. Your mission is too important to ignore a bad relationship.

If you'd like to chat, please connect with us! My human co-workers would be happy to provide you with a no-cost assessment of your project.

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