I have observed some interesting dynamics around the use of consultants – what makes them valued, what makes them effective, reasons people avoid them. Note that I DO make a distinction between Consultants and Contractors – Consultants should be bringing value, business level expertise, leadership, and a point of view and should be considered as a partner of the company engaging the Consultant. Contractors are typically brought on for task level activities, specific technical solutions, to address gaps in capacity to complete a given level of effort (commonly thought of as Staff Augmentation).
1) Team member and Partner?? In this economy, when engaged on a project/program, having deliberate endorsement of the consultant is mandatory. On this engagement – a contractor was frequently pointed to as a shining example of a success while the consultant not - yet the consultant brought more to the table at a strategic level. So why was the customer perception reversed – first of all the two were handled differently by the customer in terms of how they were introduced and engaged with the program stakeholders. The contractor level resource was escorted by the director to every program meeting, introduced and given a vocal endorsement. The consultant, interestly enough was viewed as a leader and therefore was let loose to go it on his own – having to forge a relationship path to every doorway. Only after several months did the customer realize the impact this had on the consultant’s ability to drive for strategic results.
2) Not Invented Here – is the resistance to leveraging the knowledge of a consultant team related to NIH mentality or is it fear of revealing one’s laundry? Both are motivations that are based upon the desire to prove one’s value at the cost of missing strategic opportunities. One group was so focused upon doing it themselves that even when offered knowledgeable consulting support that would yield millions on ROI the team was adamant that they could not even spare the time to use the help (even though the help was funded). Another team, realizing that they could leverage the help, made the same consulting team integral to their work. The value of the consultant is only realized if engaged.
3) Can’t afford it – resource, time, or dollars. Repeatedly I see organizations say this – and as a result they end up requiring years instead of months to gather the knowledge, the practices, and the expertise required to execute major strategic initiatives that can be easily documented as having tremendous ROI and business impact. By proper identification of the business value, the benefits, etc – the cost of the consultants can be clearly offset by an accelerated path to delivery of the solution that is bringing value.
4) Disregarding the counsel given when it is unpopular – this one always surprises me. Why pay for a consultant who has industry knowledge, expertise, and understanding of the myriad of complexities for the area of their specialization, and then minimize the importance of the issues they call out – whether risks, costs, recommendations, or opportunities.
If you are interested in further perspectives on the use of consultants, I recommend the book “Taking Advice: How Leaders Get Good Counsel and Use it Wisely” by Dan Ciampa