How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The ChangingMinds Blog!
Consultants and wagging the dog
A while ago I worked in an organisation which had decided to bring in a raft of consultants. They were mostly good people but with the best will, the result was expensive and barely-contained chaos as the stream of new people tried to figure out how things worked and what to do.
A benefit of consultants is that they are mostly smart and motivated. A problem with this is that, if not directed carefully, they will go off and reinvent things. They often assume they are smarter than you (which is not always the case). If they think your ways of doing things is not that good, they will reinvent it. For full-time employees this is like people coming into your house and rearranging things to suit themselves. When they leave, the job may be done but the mess is worse. And I have found them seldom willing to clean up their mess before they go.
The consultants we had rejected the automated project management system for their own people-intensive approach, were quite variable in their use of document filing and took insufficient time to get to grips with the corporate content management system. I did what I could to shepherd them into some form of organization, but this was not an easy task as they had understood and used the first law of big consulting firms: own the boss. My director had plenty of time for them and hardly a moment for me.
Being smart and concerned to get the job done, consultants also like to be in charge and you may easily end up with too many chiefs. Being mostly extraverted, self-driven individuals who need to stand out they tend to have differing views and decisions may easily become confused.
We had a programme where there were three programme managers, each with overlapping roles, such that to implement change I had to get agreement from all three, which was rare. It was also confusing for the rest of the programme when different programme managers made different decisions or layered requests.
Another variation we met was that consultants were rolled on and off the programme based on the consultancy's need for them elsewhere and for 'personal development' reasons. They would even mostly disappear for a day to attend consultancy events. I spent much time educating and bringing people up to speed and wondered often if the real cost was appreciated.
There was also a subtle mopping up of work being done by independent individual consultants, elbowing them out of work. Several of these had provided regular sterling service over a number of years and might be forgiven for outraged anger. Yet they noticeably (and professionally) kept a stiff upper lip about it all.
All in all, many permanent staff felt used and abused. Senior people seemed overly chummy with consultants who seemed to be running things to suit themselves more than their clients. Nevertheless the engagement was still adjudged a success as the product was delivered, though this was at a very high cost, financially and in the people impact, as well as the loss of knowledge as the consultants left.
And not for the first time, the senior manager who commissioned them also left with them, having being offered a well-paid job in their firm. Many complained of conflicting motivations, but nothing happened.
Altogether it seemed a sad and sordid affair, and it would be easy to become wholly disillusioned with consultants overall. Yet I still remember good people working hard and doing their best. There will always be a role for consulting support, but it is important not to let the tail wag the dog.
" There was also a subtle mopping up of work being done by independent
individual consultants, elbowing them out of work. Several of these had provided
regular sterling service over a number of years and might be forgiven for
outraged anger. Yet they noticeably (and professionally) kept a stiff upper lip
about it all. "
There are good people in the big firms, but there are also plenty of average ones as well as a few dogs. I ran a programme when I hired consultants regularly. My basic approach was to get them in, give them a small job to see how good they were then re-hire the ones who best delivered the goods. I ended up with mostly independents on the books.
I am not sure if I understand all of the specific circumstances outlined in
this item, however there is a paradox that I have noticed with technical
Imagine somebody being rather toady and obsequious. You feel superior and look down on them. A similar effect happens if they are too anxious in trying to persuade you. In both cases, you will likely have mentally positioned the other person as inferior.
With regard to forgetting legal advice, one reason the client hires the
lawyer is to magically take away all responsibility and so feels let down when
they fail, no matter what the client does or does not do. The client is also
responsible for hiring a good-enough lawyer (though of course this is difficult
if you have no criteria or method).