You can’t do everything on your own. It’s a hard lesson for many execs to learn, but a time will come in your business’s life when you must relinquish control, relying on the expertise of others to get your company on track.

For most leaders, the answer to this struggle is the independent consultant. No matter the skill or potential of internal resources, it’s those on the outside who wear the mantle of success. They arrive on the scene with a level of authority that prompts others to trust in their knowledge and heed their advice.

I’ve seen it time and again — a company is building into its next phase and requires broad, generalist knowledge. Without an outside, neutral perspective, it has no means of validating risky initiatives or developing new programs for its current clientele. For these scenarios, a consultant can be the best possible remedy.

But occasions do arise where an external consultant isn’t a game changer and could, in fact, be draining your resources and delaying growth. To truly understand the issues and get results, you may just need someone with a deep awareness of your organizational culture — one that only comes from the inside.

So how do you make that choice? Do you go for the fresh perspective or the informed historical context?

The Insider Advantage

Though sometimes limited by perception and position in the organization, internal experts bring an institutional knowledge rarely found in others from the outside. They often understand the market. They understand its challenges, as well as how to leverage your strengths and minimize your shortcomings in response. They come in already understanding the many unspoken ways of conducting your business.

Internal experts also come to the table with the necessary network within the business to make connections and get things done both efficiently and effectively. They know who to turn to when it comes to gleaning relevant information, and they can approach almost anyone in the organization for that individual’s input.

In other words, internal experts already possess all the pieces that will inevitably come together to form that bigger picture.

The Eye of an Outsider

But when an organization has little or no expertise in the area of need, an internal expert isn’t enough. Someone from the outside can fill the gaps, bringing up-to-date knowledge and skills on a particular business function, process improvement, or even market segment.

Maybe your organization has developed a strategic plan, but has not yet been successful with its implementation. An outside expert could be just what you need to bring it to fruition — or help settle any disagreements around its execution. Remember, independent consultants are objective, making few, if any, allowances for past issues or personal preferences.

Besides being in a better position to identify problems and offer unbiased solutions, external consultants can actually teach you and your staff “how to fish.” They can broaden your knowledge base with their expertise, providing new skills to operate your business long-term.

Inside or Out

Whether you go with an internal expert or a consultant from the outside often relies on the “type” of project at hand. The following are four of the most common categories:

1. Keep projects: Maybe it’s an initiative that’s absolutely critical to your marketplace advantage, and an inside expert is far more efficient than any outsider. Keep projects like these in-house whenever possible.

2. Build projects: With this type of project, either the capability or capacity is beyond you. For example, your internal staff should be constantly improving lead times but don’t have the time or know-how to do so.

Hire a consultant for the immediate need, and plan to learn the capabilities or staff up so you can take over the project or repeat it internally in the future.

3. Prioritize projects: If your staff has nothing of higher priority to do, feel free to keep in-house. But as soon as staff time is better utilized elsewhere, these projects should fall on a consultant’s shoulders.

4. Partner projects: Partner projects are those you turn over to outside experts. When no one inside is qualified and you’ll never need those skills again, go with an expert from outside your company.

The same can be said for an internal expert who is good one-on-one but not in big meetings — and besides, he or she can’t possibly adjudicate disagreements among senior staff without getting into hot water.

Having an expert on the inside is valuable. You have access to his or her knowledge and skills over the long-term. But the unique experience of an outside consultant, even if only for a short period of time, can put a company on a path toward success. You just need to know which candidate is the best fit for the task at hand.

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