The myths of a management consultant

This blog is triggered by an interview with a managing partner of McKinsey.
The interviewer put forward some valid questions on the role, impact and responsibilities of a management consultant (or consultant). The questions that triggered me were the ones on the responsibility of consultants in big projects like the mergers of companies like ABNAMRO. And more precisely, their believed impact in company decisions.

There is some kind of negative myth on consultants that I will address here. There are also positive myths!

Myth 1: Consultants are heavily overpaid.
I believe consultants are well paid. But the fee of a consultant is not transferred directly to his bank account. The fee covers the following costs: salary (of the consultant, management layers, secretaries, accountant, IT people,…), travel expenses (hotel, flight, car, taxi), housing of the company, lower fees, times with no paid work, training, health insurance, pensions, insurance for claims, unpaid sales activities (tenders, visits, ..) holidays, taxes, IT costs, …

As I work alone, I do not have the costs like housing, expenses for managers etc. On the other side, I do not have any colleagues who bring in money when I do not have a paid assignment (holidays, illness, no work).  The challenge of a consultant is that money only comes in when he is on a paid assignment.

Myth 2: the almighty consultant.
This is the myth of the almighty consultant to whom company management just hands over the steering wheel.
Clearly the consultant, depending on the relative consultant/management skill and experience level, can have more or less impact on the decisions and direction of the company. But company management remains fully responsible of its decisions and actions. I do not know any manager, who accepts the word of any consultant, without making this decision his own.

Myth 3: A consultant cannot know what is best for us as he is from outside.
It is not uncommon to hear from company management that the special situation of that company is so special, that someone from outside the company is unable to help them. In many cases this is a typical over estimation of the own speciality. An analysis and proposed solution from outside can work beneficial, as it helps breaking the circle in which organizational management solves effects in stead of root causes.

The following is not another myth, but a characteristic.

The consultant is never right but company management is.
One key characteristic of a good consultant is to be able to leave honours and praise to the client (this is when the result is as expected) and to accept the blame for all that goes wrong. It’s part of the game.

I end with some valid reasons or what good a consultant can bring to any organisation:

  • Temporary needed skills and experience, saves hiring own staff
  • ‘Sell’ a decision or change program into the organisation
  • Provide an outside, fresh view on an internal situation, with an possible solution
  • Provide an objective benchmark on the performance level of the organisation
  • Coach and train organisational staff (management as well as technical)
  • Assist in decision making processes (objective, analytical, external info gathering and evaluation, decision criteria definition, …)

I wish you all an exiting and successful 2010!

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