This post is one in an occasional series to help guide those looking to hire a facilitator. Other posts in this series can be found here. If your questions about facilitation are not answered, please don’t hesitate to email me and I will be glad to help!
On more than one occasion I have been asked, “So how much does it cost to hire a facilitator?” Unfortunately this question often comes at the beginning of a conversation with a perspective client and is the start of an awkward dance where neither partner names the dance being offered. The potential client is often carrying a number in his or her head and simply wants to negotiate that price or, better yet, a 10% discount on the price. Unfortunately, facilitation is not a product that you can buy off the shelf like a computer or desk. Facilitation is about process more than product and as the facilitator, if I do not understand the scope of the task or the desired performance outcome it is hard for me to answer a preemptive question of cost. As a result, the client dances with a product and the facilitator dances with the process much like one person dancing the tango and the other dancing the waltz. So I thought I would outline some organizing questions for thinking about the cost of facilitation.
What is the cost of not hiring a facilitator? The challenge with answering this question is that it requires the client to ask hard questions about the outcome and the value of that outcome. For example, let’s say you manage a team of 10 people and your team meets two hours once a month for a team meeting and that each meeting has 30 minutes of preparation and debrief time for each team member. You have observed that your team uses only half of the time effectively. So the productivity of the meetings is 50%. So you pull out your calculator and do the math. 3 hours/month – times 10 staff – at an average salary and benefit cost of $30/hour equals $900/month. Since the meetings are only 50% productive you realize you lose $450/month in productivity or $5,400/year. So the cost of not hiring a facilitator has a cost of $5,400/year? That number becomes the value of your need. So the client needs to ask him/herself, “what return do I expect on my investment in meeting efficiency, or strategic planning, or job classification redesign.”
What it the value-add rather than the hourly rate? If you have a value-based need, it becomes less important to ask a facilitator about his/her hourly rate and more important to ask what can the facilitator do to close your value gap. Carrying our meeting improvement example, further, a facilitation consultant might propose to use training and coaching to increase your meeting efficiency by 30%. I will let you do the math, but if you did the $5,400/year productivity loss would decrease to a loss of only $2,160/year that translates to a $3,000 plus productivity gain. Even if you lost a third of that gain each year for the next two years, the three year productivity gain would still be near $6,000. As a potential client, you could then ask yourself how much you are willing to invest to gain $3-6,000 of productivity over the next three years. That is a different conversation than”what does facilitation cost?”
What is the Alliance and Relationship being built? Elsewhere I have written that a critical variable in hiring a consultant is to look for someone who not only understands but is willing to enter into your organization and become part of it. It is a myth that a facilitation and process consultant is an external neutral observer. As you look to hire a facilitation consultant it is important to have the lens that you are extending your agency capacity. It is my belief that a consulting relationship needs to be a learning relationship with two goals of 1) meeting present need and 2) building agency capacity. The discussion of the cost of facilitation needs to explore immediate organizational needs and the organizational change required to alleviate the need for consulting services in the future. Contracts should be negotiated around, outcomes, return-on-investment and performance improvement.
It is easy for a consultant to quote an hourly rate of between $80 and $200 for facilitation services. Unfortunately, such an approach is shortsighted and opens both the facilitator and the client the use of smoke and mirrors in negotiating a price. I have found that using these three principles offers a more thoughtful values-based approach to discussing the cost of hiring a facilitator. As always, I appreciate your feedback.