The following is a letter to the editor of Fortune Magazine.
Just wanted Fortune readers to have the “other side of the story.”
Hope you like it as a “Tit for Tat” with Bing (one of their regular anonymous columnists) on the subject of “why consultants generally suck” (their words, not mine.)
Dear Bing (via Fortune editor):
Your recent column on consultants just begs response and knowing that you are a lover of all things systematic, I find no alternative but to respond point by point. First let me say that after over 25 years of being a user of, and a payer for, consultants, I followed my heart and joined their merry band! [Highlighted below, Bing, are your comments; mine follow in regular font.]
Consultants temporarily bridge gaps in organizations that should be filled by staff. You get full marks for this one. But one must examine why this happens. Might it be because some insider has let the gaps become so obvious that the people upstairs can no longer ignore them? Or is it because those responsible cannot adequately communicate their needs and ideas upstairs? Or is it simply due to inexperience? Maybe a combination, but certainly often partially due to the fact that insiders have an internal focus and a responsibility to keep on trucking with tools or programs that no longer work.
Consultants’ expertise is not liked. I don’t like taking medicine sometimes. Unfortunately, if I let my condition get so bad, I have a choice to make — either listen to an expert’s advice (preferably with a second opinion) and follow it, or go on living with my condition.
Consultants are too enthusiastic and they dress funny. I wonder if the enthusiasm you are observing is bothersome only because it is contrasted with the lack of hope or optimism sometimes reflected in the attitudes of the insiders? As far as the way we dress — well, at least we dress and won’t likely have to be sent home for inappropriate attire (even on hot Friday afternoons). And one other thing, unlike you, Bing!, keeping our jobs does not depend on the colour of our suits, the width of their pinstripes, our ties, or how long or short our hair is. We’ve achieved what you often write you wish you could achieve — true freedom in the workplace.
Consultants are liked far too much by the boss. Ever wonder why? The reasons given above for why consultants temporarily bridge gaps will also suffice here. Insiders are more interested in being politically correct and keeping their jobs, rather than telling it like it is sometimes. Consultants that have truly arrived, have nothing to lose than that particular “gig”. Maybe you guys should realize that a good boss is sick and tired of “yes” people.
Consultants don’t listen. You’re right here, Bing! A balance is required but when you guys talk, please make sure that you’re not just giving us excuses as to why things are the way they are, or why you really don’t think we need to be there, or why nothing else will work, or why it’s someone else’s fault, or why upstairs really doesn’t know what they are doing. On the other hand, we could keep on listening, but at the rates you’re paying for us, do you really want us to listen to stuff like that indefinitely?
Consultants’ solutions to problems were baked fresh in the 1990s and have been used every year since then. The evolution of an organization to being a “most desirable employer” and/or the “best in its field” requires the implementation of incremental steps to be followed in a specific order for the right foundations to be present which support the next stage evolvement. If our ideas seem “old hat” it may be because your organization either never bothered to listen in 1990 or has failed to follow advice correctly since then. When we do offer new, alternative approaches, most of you come back with, “Who else has done this?”
Consultants don’t really know anything about their clients’ business or their companies. We know what you tell us factually. We know what you tell your shareholders. We know what you have documented elsewhere. If there’s something else we should know, don’t make us mind-read. Take some time to think about what you would want to know if you were in our shoes and tell us. Now that I come to think of it, isn’t all that extra knowledge that you possess the main reason why, after you’re given your separation or early retirement package, you get reincarnated as one of us in the same organization?
Consultants’ solutions generally evaporate like fog over a mountain lake. Yes, I’ve noticed that too. Again, let’s examine why with an example. You ask for a new “job evaluation system” to reflect the company’s new values. We work with you to develop a program that results in a somewhat different “internal job worth hierarchy” from the one currently in place. You can’t live with those results because you fundamentally failed to accept the fact that when you change corporate values and the things you want to compensate for in a job, you will ultimately change the pecking order of jobs in the organization. You’re afraid to implement such a change. You put our report aside and go on living with outdated systems and their implications. In short, it takes guts to carry through. We don’t see a lot of nameplates on your offices these days that read something like “Jack Welch”!
Consultants cost a lot. Since all the services and products that you provide are all under-priced, I will talk to my colleagues and see if we can provide you with the same relief in this area. However, our fees are often on a sliding scale depending on the nature of the client as relating to their ability to pay. I haven’t seen that too often being the case with any of Fortune’s 500. You guys complaining about our fees is like the Oil Executives who complain about the price of villas on exotic islands and luxury automobiles going up unexplainably on Mondays and Tuesdays when they have the most cash to spend right after they’ve increased the price of gasoline at the pumps for the week-end. Really now, Bing!
Consultants alienate people from their bosses. The only reason we’re there sometimes is because you guys have alienated yourselves from your bosses already. If someone was minding the store, why would bosses increase their costs by calling in the brigade? Besides, often times your fear of us alienating you from the boss is exacerbated during the process when the boss notices your lack of cooperation with the consultant. Bing, try blowing some smoke away from the mirror before you.
Consultants are there to get people fired. How paranoid, Bing. In fact, how ridiculous. We know that good people are a company’s best assets. We’ve learned that lesson some years ago when some consultants did in fact advise you to get rid of some of your middle managers. You did and it didn’t work. Recently, you’ve been hiring them back. Looking at it from a totally selfish perspective, if you guys weren’t there, who’d cause the “gaps” we talked about earlier to occur so that we would be called in? No, Bing, we don’t want you fired.
Consultants in the end are after the clients’ management jobs and their executive’s jobs. Better check your statistics on that one, big guy. From where most of us sit at least as senior independent consultants, unless you make us the ceo, we’re not giving up the freedom or the range of activities and scope of exposure to a wide variety of industry and organizations and even then, to report to some Board of Directors, not to mention shareholders. Those that agree to do so, either have a momentary lapse of discretion or are really gunning for the big severance package that nine out of ten of those types of scenarios end up with due to them being just plain appointment errors in the first place!
To quote you, Bing, we have “a lifetime of preparation and study” and we’re “smart and resourceful”. We have a job for as long as we decide. You have a job for as long as someone else decides. We wish you well, too, Bing! from all your Bong! friends, whom we assume you wish were all Banged!
Ken B. Godevenos, MBA, CCP, CHRP
Accord Resolution Services Inc.