I use the word some advisably. There are definitely a bunch of people who have a pathological dislike of consultants and others who tolerate them as a necessary evil. Some even enjoy working with consultants. Depending on how good you are as a consultant at building personal relationships will determine your success ultimately but you still have the barriers to break down.
So what have we as good, hardworking consultants done to deserve this? I will venture to give a view from the “front line”
The jokes we have all heard give us a clue:-
- A consultant is a man who knows 99 ways to make love, but doesn’t know any women.
- A consultant borrows your watch to tell you the time and then keeps your watch.
- A consultant is like a seagull – flies in on a Monday, shits all over you and leaves early on a Friday.
- A consultant is someone who is called in at the last moment and paid enormous amounts of money to assign the blame
- It takes two things to be a consultant – grey hair and hemorrhoids. The grey hair makes you look distinguished and the hemorrhoids make you look concerned.
- How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb? Answer- Whats your budget?
- One consultant, told he was a pain in the neck, said he was glad to have been moved up.
- A consultant’s credo: Learn to be sincere even if you have to fake it.
Whilst some are actually quite amusing they relate to some of the underlying issues that give rise to the issues that we all have to address and overcome in our engagements
1. Overpaid people for what they actually deliver – show me the value!
Clients can see consultants as overpaid for the job they do. They can see little value in the team assembled apart from perhaps the senior members of the team. They may be some jealousy in the fact that the individual consultant has much less experience, knowledge and skill. This is particularly true of recent engagements I have been on where the Big 4 player tended to staff many of the roles with very junior members to improve the margin
2. Deep mistrust as Consultants were imposed by Senior Management / Shareholders without consultation
Senior management often do a poor job at integrating the external talent with the staff directly involved in the business. That can lead to a lack of communication, mistrust and fear from the staff team. They believe, often rightly so, that the Senior Management are going to get a dossier outlining their team’s capabilities from the external consultants which ultimately could be used against them
3. Consultants are all spin and no substance
Consultants are bullshiters. They talk plenty, don’t listen, deliver slick presentations and neither understand the technology nor the business they are engaged in. These charges can often be true when poor consultants are introduced to an organization. They can often bring with them an arrogance/ ignorance of how to conduct themselves and are very poor at establishing client relationships.
4. Consultants are only interested in maximizing profits and the sell-on and don’t have the best interests of clients at heart
That can be true. If you look at the metrics by which senior managers/ executives in consulting companies are rewarded on, there is often an unhealthy emphasis on business development and sales. The quality of the project being delivered only becomes a real issue if the client complains.
5. Consultants don’t live with the consequences of failure
As most consulting engagements are time and materials, the consultant is actually incentivized for failure! The longer it takes, the more deadlines that are missed, the better the revenue stream looks. Very few will underwrite risk. Those that do are typically only taking small risks. With other services / products that you buy it is quite easy to determine what has not been delivered as a result of poor quality. Consultants / consulting firms tend to shy away from these risks with caveats galore in the contract
6. Consultants don’t have ownership of the process once delivered
The client is left with the baby after the consultant engagement has finished in most cases. Many issues are only found during volume / production testing. This then leads to lots of blame being allocated to the consultants who often have left the building several months ago. On the one hand they are an easy target, whilst on the other if the right people from the client’s own team were not involved in the design, build and test then this is guaranteed to be an issue. Not so much the consultants fault, more the client’s short sightedness.
7. Consultants are a very soft target
As an outsider, it is easy to galvanize a client team to point the finger at the consultant’s failings. Generally comes with the territory. However, often you will hear the most vocal objectors as the people that are hardly involved in the project at all. Unless you have a thick skin you will not survive very long in this business!
8. Why do we need consultants anyway?
Many individuals in companies delude themselves that they are effective change agents. The reality is that not many people can do change well. Pulling together a disparate team, providing structure, direction, process and governance, change management and technology are non trivial tasks. The people that can do it are usually wrapped up in business issues galore and don’t have the time to devote to the project to deliver. However, it doesn’t stop the “anti-consultant” brigade from continuing to ask the question
9. Consultants cause chaos and make work to keep everyone busy
There is nothing more annoying than a consultant asking you as the client to spend hours filling out a template or a questionnairre and getting absolutely no feedback on what happened with the results or why this template is being used. Time is precious. If a client feels like you are wasting their time, it is difficult to recover any credibility. Methodologies are often imposed which are much to “heavy” for the task in hand. Good consultants can adapt to meet their clients needs. Novices tend to follow the methodology with blind faith
10. Consultants head off better trained at our expense with all our intellectual property
Absolutely, that is the name of the game. So if the client doesn’t recognise that they probably need all the help they can get! Joking apart, I do always feel that most services that are bought by one customer get resold to others again and again. The question of intellectual property is a more complicated one for another day.
In conclusion, there is good reason for the jokes and the issues raised. Many consulting companies do exploit the client situation to advance the agenda of their own organisation before that of their clients.
At Strata6 we have a strong track record of converting many of the doubters by adhering to our fundamental core values:
1. We focus on the needs of the client first
2. We build very strong personal relationships
3. We deliver time and time again
4. We are flexible in our approach to shared risk
5. We make sure you have the right client team in your project from day 1
6. We don’t staff your team with junior people, however smart they are
7. We listen to your client and don’t feel compelled to prove how smart you are
8. We are very careful to maintain a balance between trusted advisor to the senior executive and project team member who needs to retain the support of the client’s staff members
9. We can adapt methodologies and processes to suit the needs of the project
10. We continue to go above and beyond to exceed your client’s expectations