Aside

Why We Should Hate All Consultants

When my company is stuck, I’m just as inclined to hire an outside advisor as other leaders are. But I hate it. Hiring a consultant means something needs to be fixed, or grown, or that I don’t know what to do next. I’m not talking about contractors whom I hire to do what I need and they are supplemental labor. I’m talking the consultants where I hire them to advise me. Hiring them usually means we’ve already failed in our first effort. It mostly means we are vulnerable. We need. So I believe we should all hate consultants. You probably already do. It’s okay. I give you permission.


Consultants do 3 things that suck. 

  1. Regurgitation. We pay them to tell us what we already (should) know. We have a bunch of information inside our firm. Sometimes, different parts know what they know, but they don’t share it across the silos. Sometimes, different people withhold perspective. Sometimes, people don’t feel trust that their opinion will be heard so they hold back until they work with a neutral 3rd party (who might just take the investment of ideas and turn it into something). So the information is already there. And the consultant gets hired to find it and then package it back up.  
  2. They leave. Consultants create their answers, and then leave. Well, usually they create PowerPoint (and if you hire McKinsey, then you pay a minimum of a $1M for those to be beautiful) slides that communicate their answer. When they leave, very little transfer of information has happened. Most importantly, the understanding of the situation has rarely transferred. In the best cases, the consulting firm communicates the big idea but definitely hasn’t had the detailed conversations within the company that will cause people to have a shared understanding. They leave having created the “big idea” and the organization doesn’t know what needs to happen to make it real. Effectively we have a great strategy but because of they way it was formed (they went off and thought about it and came back with an answer), we can’t execute it.
  3. Or they don’t. When consultants stay on, they are creating a co-dependency on them. They do add-on engagements, one after another. And we are left needing them because we don’t hold the understanding of what matters and why. They do. And so we need them. Most consulting firms can’t do knowledge transfer as part of their business, because that’s how they make money.  


Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could rid our need of consultants? Just a few small changes to make… 
Get Naked. The one thing consultants have, that we don’t have inside our firms, is perspective. But what if we could see our own problems with good fidelity. Most of us are good problem solvers, so we know that if we could see the situation and essentially be able to get naked with the truth, we could strategize well within our firms. To get naked, we would need to take the time to listen to one another and actually be willing to say exactly why we thought something is not working.

Fight Fair. Either in figuring out the problem or in picking amongst the solutions, we need to know how have tough conversations. We would know what to consider more than other things. And when it comes to making the call, is it that Bob or Nancy get to pick? Or do we have a way to to choose amongst our many options (and this is the key part) without killing each other other. When we know how to fight fair: focus on the issue not the person, remember that the goal is to fix the problem together, and we’ve all gotta know WHY something got picked so we can get aligned for all the other downstream decisions.

Consultants arbitrate discussions so a solution can get created. But you know what would be more awesome? If we could find a way to do it ourselves.

Co-Own. Once we got naked and fought fair, we would all need to co-own the implementation of that solution. We wouldn’t just do the discrete parts of any jobs we hold, but we would have a way to ensure the interdependent spots are covered. We won’t just throw over requirements to engineering to build or market something sales can’t support. We’ll find a way to mind the gap between the spots in the business (the intersection between marketing and engineering, marketing and sales, etc) where connections need to be made for companies to cross their Rubicon.  Companies almost always fail in the same inflection points and these are places where no one party owns the outcome and the outcome has to cross over disciplines. We need to know how to (a) identify, (b) discuss, and ( c) reward the intersection points that we need to co-own.

This is not unrealistic in our lifetime. After all, we know how to fly to the moon. You’d think we could get healthier businesses. I’d like to get to that point where I no longer do management consulting because companies can do this stuff in-house.  And before that, I’d like to never hire another advisor.

Until that happens, hiring a consultant is an optimistic act. It’s saying that winning Is more important than not winning. The first preference is always that companies would be able to strategize by themselves. 2nd, I’d choose winning (with consulting help) than losing. And in last place is the position where I know I need help but I won’t get it in a ‘not invented here’ thing that some companies and leaders do.

I say that we could eliminate management consulting in 10 years. What is your estimate?

, ,

8 Responses:

  1. RedSeer. February 14, 2010 at 6:47 am  |  

    As companies focus more on their core strengths the need of mgmt consulting is only going to grow.

    Reply
  2. 4tuckertalk. February 14, 2010 at 6:33 pm  |  

    Great Post! AND, I think the proposals “Get Naked” and “Fight Fair” point to a service that consultants CAN offer that adds a great deal of value: teaching the interpersonal and communications skills needed to have these conversations with grace and wisdom. Too often, these conversations go awry because people have not learned how to both deliver and listen to feedback and new ideas in constructive ways. Fear takes over and stops the honesty. Consultants who help clients learn to have these conversations on their own – including getting the fear out on the table and dealt with – are the consultants that add the most value to their clients. They are also the first to truly be no longer needed, but who are said farewell to with praise and thanks – a true measure of consulting success.

    Reply
  3. businesscasepro. February 14, 2010 at 6:40 pm  |  

    You need consultants when:1) specific world-class expertise is not inside your co. 2) turnaround, when you need brutal objectivity.

    Reply
  4. Nilofer Merchant. February 15, 2010 at 4:31 am  |  

    If we could see the elephant in our own midst, we wouldn’t need consultants.

    Reply
  5. jamienotter. February 15, 2010 at 12:36 pm  |  

    Awesome points. As a conflict resolution guy, I love the fight fair part. And (as a consultant) I won’t even try to defend the need for me! We all get value out of thinking/talking with people outside of our system now and again. I guess those people will be called consultants (sometimes I just call them friends). But imagine what planets we might have reached (beyond the moon) if we all had the capacity you’re talking about.

    Reply
  6. thesethings (andy). June 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm  |   Reply
  7. SteveLamont. June 8, 2010 at 10:43 pm  |  

    Great post. I have been on both sides. Consultants need to fix their approach — add real value, put their work into context, put skin in the game. Clients would be wise to realize there are different shades of consultants — from experts to recommenders to facilitators to implementers to contractors — and there is value in their “finding” the solution within if no one else would have found it otherwise.In executive roles I have sometimes enjoyed my work with consultants because the content/(admin + politics) ratio is very high relative to internal projects.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Internal versus external consultants: Single team, common cause | Sideways Thoughts - July 29, 2013

    [...] and a swindle and articles abound on why people are sick and tired of consultants, why they hate consultants and the general critique of management [...]

Leave a Reply