If you’ve brought on an external consultant, at some point, the work will likely wind down. There may be some possibility of that consultant transitioning to a role on your team - especially if you’ve brought on fractional talent. More often, the consultant may be moving on to a completely new adventure outside your organization. Either way, if you’ve established a solid working relationship with your consultant, offboarding provides an opportunity to continue to build on that relationship and ensure the upcoming transition is seamless.
Here are some ideas for how to make the offboarding process as smooth as possible.
Communicate the transition effectively
Changes within an organization can invite anxiety and curiosity. It’s important to make sure every team member is on the same page in regards to why and when change is happening and what it will look like. Establishing context for the exit, both with your team and the consultant, is crucial.
Crafting the message with your consultant to announce their exit from your company is a way to ensure authenticity. Keep the message as clear and simple as possible, and direct curious team members to ask questions of the consultant. The more open and genuine you are in your response to an employee leaving, the less anxious and worried your remaining team will (hopefully) be.
Capture the knowledge
Regardless of the role this consultant fills within your company, they have been a valuable contributor and their transition will be felt by the remaining team members.
They may have updated systems or created processes that helped improve the flow of your company, spearheaded innovative ideas and made them reality–in turn growing your business–or had customer relationships or project ownership that will need to be backfilled.
So how do you encapsulate all that before they walk out the door? Have them write it down! Ask your consultant to draft a summary including:
What they accomplished during their tenure with your company
Any goals and directives that remain in-progress
Status updates on those goals and directives, including next steps, so that a new team member can pick those up with relative ease
Your consultant was a key contributor, possibly more than you realized because much of it may have been behind-the-scenes or just not on your radar because you were busy growing a business. That’s okay. But before you let your consultant ‘loose into the wild,’ dig in and really encapsulate any new institutional knowledge and processes they brought to the forefront during their tenure at your company. This will give you an opportunity to share your appreciation for them one last time and help raise their awareness on all they offered (and where they can build their resume) as well as provide you valuable insights you may have overlooked while you were busy with other elements of your business.
Make a project list
Your consultant just made a list of ongoing goals and directives. This is the work left on their ‘plate’ that needs to be delegated out when they depart. Rather than passively encountering these items after your consultant leaves, why not get ahead of the work?
Partner with your consultant to figure out where to shift ownership of these projects. If you have the benefit of time on your side, this is a fabulous opportunity to have your consultant provide a mini-orientation on these tasks so the handoff is even less painful.
For example, if the consultant you are losing is your chief of staff but you are fortunate to be bringing on a new chief of staff right away, they may be the best fit to take over the bulk of the tasks on this list (although there will be a certain amount of onboarding that needs to happen before your new chief of staff can jump in on some things).
If you find yourself in the all-too-familiar position of losing a consultant entirely, with no immediate replacement in sight, then you need to make a plan for delegating those projects to your team. Establish guidelines for following up on these tasks to ensure the handoff went smoothly and these active projects are moving towards completion.
Ah, success metrics! As your consultant is capturing and codifying, this is the perfect opportunity to evaluate and reflect on their engagement and what it did for your organization. Some questions to reflect upon yourself:
Was the consultant a good fit for your culture?
Did they meet the objectives that you set?
Did their work move the leader or the organization further?
Are there specific key performance indicators this consultant owned or moved forward? How did those shift over time? (worth revisiting a few months post-engagement as well)
Which brings us to the final, yet not to be overlooked, stage in the process of offboarding: the exit interview. First, a very mundane but essential task is to retrieve any company artifacts or property the consultant may hold (laptops, cell phones, badges, etc.). As well, ensure any IT access (logins, files, etc.) is settled and the consultant is no longer part of your tech equation. It’s not cold; it’s smart.
Now you get to enjoy one last opportunity for your consultant to reflect on their experiences with your organization and help you understand what worked (and what didn’t) from their perspective. Some questions to ask your consultant in their exit interview:
While working here, did you feel set up for success?
Any recommendations for other consultants or new hires in the future based on your experience?
How would you describe our company culture? Any specific examples?
Would you recommend our company as a place to work to a friend or loved one?
Are there ways we can support you with your consulting work?
It’s a great opportunity to learn lessons that will ensure the next time you engage an external consultant it goes as well or better than this time. It also helps solidify the rapport with the consultant, so they will continue to be a brand ambassador for your company or organization. We often see clients re-engage with external consultants as their needs shift over time, so it is always great to keep those relationships strong. They may also be a good resource to connect to other external consultants in other fields or functional areas.