Sunday, 25 March 2012 00:00

Consultants Cheat

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Cartoon of dead consultant

"We can fix this project ourselves." I hear that line all the time. And, of course, you can. It will just be a lot slower and more expensive because consultants cheat. Consultants simply have much more flexibility than employees do. At least consultants that put the client first. For instance, they can... Wait, I am getting a little ahead of myself. We need a little context before making that case. Obviously, consultants cannot do everything. It takes a delicate balance of consultants, employees, and contractors to get the optimal performance out of an organization.

Those Darn Employees

I am the last person to say that "employee" is an antiquated concept and neither is this a self-serving statement (in full disclosure, this is the service we provide). Business has morphed and each of these roles continues to evolve. Internal resources must define and maintain the vision, run operations, and supply the continued innovation for the organization (reference Simon Sinek's TED video below). Contractors (operations staff augmentation) can help with execution and operations for peak times, but nothing more.

Others disagree, feeling that companies can survive devoid of employees and having consultants provide the innovation and contractors execute to that vision. If their purpose is merely short-term income, that may work. If the company's goal is bigger, I have difficulty seeing how the outsourced model is sustainable. Consultants can assist in establishing those services, but cannot provide the passion and vision of dedicated employees.

Internal resources are a crucial ingredient in creating, retaining, and maintaining the company's intellectual property, craft a consistent customer experience, foster innovation, and focus on what makes the company's offering unique. At times, however, companies need a little push to get them out of their rut and moving a different direction. This is where consultants shine... and cheat.

The Call For Help

No business is a panacea. Projects struggle, communication suffers, intentions are misinterpreted, and progress stalls. As in our personal lives, these times require a counselor. Trying to solve communication issues with your spouse can be a futile endeavor whose outcome might be dismal failure—time to call for objective help. People from outside the situation are without the cultural, emotional, and situational biases that we live with every day. Consultants see cultural issues that are invisible to people in the organization. Granted, they must be mindful of culture, but they have license to question and change it. They can talk about the elephants in the room—the boss that tells people to take on risk, but reprimands failure; policies that restrict training, while the company takes on a new business direction; the new project to make the company millions, which is misaligned with the company's vision. Consultants are less concerned with limiting their tenure and more concerned about making decisions that destroy roadblocks.

Consultants can tread on this sacred ground and question the premise of any norm. If the bosses dislike the questioning, they can terminate the contract. However, what good is that? Why would they hire a consultant and then ignore their advice? It happens. There are times when the cultural crosscurrents bring in a consultant and another faction is unwilling to listen. That action speaks loudly by exposing the dichotomy like a gaping raw wound. Ignorance is no longer an option. The consultant did his or her job.


Objective Decision Making

The consultant's job is often to make decisions (either directly or through the data they supply) to effect a change. Merely thinking of the physics, any object headed in a specific trajectory will continue to follow that course until another force is applied to alter its direction. The consultant is that external force.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard the line, "so-and-so is a great guy." It always prompts the response, "I am sure they are. Are they doing the job they are assigned?" It could be they are burned out, missing skills, saddled with personal issues, or more. Someone must ask the tough questions and make the decision or recommendation on how to change. Consultants cheat asking the taboo questions without fear of being slapped with the negative label, losing their job, or the long-term effects of work in the organization—their tenure is short.

Consultants can also bypass the chain of command, get the answers, expose the schisms, and propose solutions. They can implement the change; however, implementation is the right of the employees. Change will be transient if it lacks buy-in from the employees.

Financial Audits

Still skeptical? We exercise this process regularly. Anytime you invest in a company (with money or as an employee), one of your assumed requirements is that the company's financials have been audited and you will be alerted of any "questionable entries". Would you prefer this be a new college graduate recently trained in the latest financial techniques, a senior financial analyst employee well versed in how the books were laid out, or an outside firm that specializes in accounting audits whose direction is to identify and suggest remediation for the issues found? I am sure, without question, the latter. Why not do the same for your business? Use the consultant for what they are good for—that outside force to change the course of your organization. After all, they cheat.

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