In my last blog on Just in Time, I mentioned consultants and said that was a topic for a future Blog, well here it is. I didn’t paint a very favorable picture of consultants and want to clarify my opinion this week. Consultants are a good thing. Consultants can play a positive role in your company. The problem is not all consultants, it is how businesses utilizes them.
I do not have a favorable opinion of consultants straight out of college without any practical experience. They may understand the topic they are consulting on but have no idea how it interacts with the organization. A consultant with previous business experience and expertise on the specific topic is an asset. When they bring their expertise they also understand how it interacts within the company.
Ebsco hired a consultant with expertise on our enterprise software a couple of ears ago. We wanted to roll out a new scheduling module in the software. The consultant had prior experience managing their own manufacturing company. She has expertise on the software and experience on how changes effect the company. She helped us come up with a game plan and provided answers to questions during the roll out. The key was we did it and she provide expertise and guidance. It worked well. We were able to implement the new module in half the time with their assistance.
So, after my last blog and what I just wrote, it appears I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth. I’m not. My problems with consultants are two-fold.
First, as I have already mentioned is the boy/girl wonders with no practical experience in the business world. They have spent years in classrooms learning the flavor of the month business tools. They know everything there is to know about, Lean, Just in Time, Total quality Management and everything else. They can recite every step and nuance. What they don’t know is people and managing people. They don’t know how it really works in the company. Their value is limited at best. Their approach is often following a text-book. The problem is that the text-book wasn’t read by the team. The steps in the text-book fit a hypothetical company that has nothing in common with yours. You are headed down the path of failure.
The second thing I have issue with is the approach companies attempt to utilize consultants. Top management reads about the newest and greatest business strategy. They want it and want it now. Pull out the check book and hire a consultant. The consulting firm offers guaranteed performance parameters by the end of the first year. They send in an army and make changes across the board. Guess what? They hit their goals and collect their paycheck. AND next year things go right back where they were. No real changes in the company except their bank account is a little lighter. This approach doesn’t teach anything. It doesn’t take into account your company’s culture and team. They blow right by everyone on the team and slap on a bunch of patches. Those patches only hold a year or two.
Consultants that partner with management, offering guidance and advice can be a real asset. The good consultants learn your company and the talent you have available. They adapt their guidance to your situation. When management identifies a goal and brings in consultants for guidance these consultants have impact. Management must drive the change. Sustainable change must be bottom up, not top down. Major changes often impact the fabric of the company’s culture and must be implemented systematically with the support of the entire organization. This is where the people aspect comes in. The consultant must have the business experience to understand how implementation impacts the organization and understand what their role should be.
I hope any consultants out there now understand I am not against them. If you are attempting to b a consultant without practical experience, I encourage to go out and get a real job before trying to tell the rest of us what we need to do. check back with me in ten years and we’ll talk. For those consultants with a specific expertise and practical experience, who knows, maybe I’ll be calling you.