About Those Consultants...

When the email alert from FastCompanypopped up on my screen promoting an article entitled, “6Golden Rules for Turning Consulting Relationships Into Breakthroughs,” Iimmediately thought, “I’ve got to see this one.”

Mostly because, no matter what itpresented, I probably wasn’t going to believe it.  Or agree.

Not that I have anything against Mr.Vossoughi or his 27 years as an innovation consultant at Ziba.  I’m sure he’s done some very fine work.

It’s the consulting model that Ihave a problem with – and so should you.

Full disclosure, here.  I’ve worked as a confidential executiveadvisor for as long as Mr. Vossoughi. During that same time period, I’ve written and spoken and been a serialentrepreneur – and fought against the consulting model starting from the days before I started my ownbusiness and continuing, as you can see, to right now.

Why?  Because it’s a toxic model designed to create a sense ofdependency – not just for the immediate help you’re getting, but for any andevery other service the firm or its partners can justify selling you.

Don’t blame the consultants –especially if you have them in house at the moment.  (You really don’t want to get on their bad side.)  They’re stuck within the same toxicmodel as they’re imposing on you.

Instead, let’s take a quick look athow the model works – and what you can do about it now and in future wheneveryou think about bringing consulting help in.

The Consulting Model

No matter how expert in yourindustry the consultants you hire might be, the first thing to remember is thatthey’re not, actually, part of your industry.  They’re part of the consulting industry only. 

Sure, they’ve got smarts andexpertise you want – but they’re not you. They’re them and they have a different agenda than yours – even for yourcompany.

Because the way that consultingengagements work from an inside-the-consulting-firm perspective has nothing todo with the work they’re doing for you right now.  It’s all about the follow-on work that they can sell you.

If you’re playing with the Big Boys,the partners are expected to cross-sell other services.  If you’re playing with a mid-size orboutique firm, it’s in their best financial interests to generate continuingbusiness with a handful of clients rather than the senior members spending theirtime marketing.

That’s what the writing and speakingis for.  Marketing in absentia.

And even if you’re working with asmall or mid-sized firm, you can probably count on their being part of someform of consortium of consultants…which means they’re cross-selling into theother consultants’ expertise.  Justlike the Big Boys.

Don’t get me wrong.  They won’t do a ‘bad’ job for you onthe gig they’re doing.  In fact,they’ll do the best they can to do a great job for you.

It’s their agenda that’s importantfor you to know and understand. It’s not this gig.  It’s thenext.  And the one after that.  And the one after that.

So What’s an Executive To Do?

There are three keys to making theconsulting relationship make sense from a corporate perspective.  They are:

1.    Define the Terms
2.    Make Sense of the Measures
3.    Terminate.  Forever.

We’ll take them one at a time.

1. Define the Terms

You probably think you’re alreadydoing this – and you are.  At leastfrom your perspective.  But nottheirs.

When you define the terms of theengagement, limit the services you’re buying to very specific, time-limited,highly measurable outcomes – one of which is to ensure that the consultants arebuilding expertise and an infrastructure within your organization made up ofyour employees so that there is no need for the consultants to return.

2. Make Sense of the Measures

Consultants usually provide theirown measures for success.  Theypromise you that they will deliver a something – whether in the form of hoursor cost reduction or something else that they can easily tie to theiractivities.

The trick for you is to make surethat what they’re delivering ties directly into your strategic measures.  Not their operational ones.

Frankly, their measures don’t – orshouldn’t – matter to you at all. The only measures that count in your organization are the ones thatdemonstrate that the enterprise is achieving the strategic goals you set outfor it.

Otherwise – consultants or not – whyare you doing what you’re doing?

So don’t let them tell you how youmeasure the success of their activities. You tell them.

3. Terminate.  Forever.

If the consultant has any inkling atall that there’s an open door for them – or their colleagues or consortiamembers – to come back and provide new services, you’re a goner.  Remember, that’s their goal.  That’s how they win.

So, when you’re defining terms, makesure that the most important term is the time limit and the fact that they willnot be invited back again. Ever.  Even if they do thebest job in the world for you.

In fact, if they have done the bestjob, then you won’t need them back. At least not for anything like what you have them in for now.

Be polite – but show them thatthere’s a door and you’ll be escorting them through it exactly when you say youwill.  They’ll get paid – but onlyfor this gig.  They’re not going tobe able to plan their retirement around you.

A Final Word

Consultants really are wonderful forwhat they do.  They bring newknowledge, expertise and perspectives into your organization that wouldn’totherwise be readily available.

But, even as you look to theconsulting world to answer your questions, look, also at the local colleges anduniversities to see what courses – both credit and extension – areavailable.  And don’t forget thetechnical and community colleges. Sometimes they’ve got exactly the answer you need at a much lower cost.

The goal – whether with consultantsor any other means – is to build success within.  Focus on that. Make sure that your people are being developed – all the time – andyou’ll find that you don’t need as many consultants as you thought you didafter all.

You can read more about this - and other immediate fixes to your organization - in my new ebook, The Proactive Troubleshooting Guide to Quality, Change and Development Initiatives available from Amazon.