Battling Consultants

Okay, maybe you don't like your employer's use of consultants, in general.  Or maybe it's just a particular consultant you object to.

But despite your desires (and possibly your best efforts) one of these outside advice givers has burrowed into the company inner workings like a tick on an unsuspecting dog.  And worse yet, your boss is their "executive sponsor."

What do you do?

In my experience, you "go along, and get along."  There is likely little to be gained from visibly and publicly opposing the consultant, and plenty of credibility to be lost and goodwill to be wasted.

Once a commitment is made to an outside consultant, you're likely stuck with them until one of three things happen -- they totally mess something up, Board/CEO/Higher Management begins to question their value, or their sponsoring executive leaves, transfers, or dies.

You could start an underground campaign to discredit the consultants, marshalling your subordinates, allies, and political resources to try to point out their errors or other miscues.  Since they likely are wearing a huge halo (see my last post:  Familiarity Breeds Contempt) you're likely have a difficult and lengthy uphill slog getting anywhere with this approach.

A better plan would be to try to co-opt the consultants, bending or expanding their project in a direction useful to you.  This is sometimes possible as it provides the consultant some additional scope for his project (and more billable hours), and also may provide him additional insights that allow him to appear more knowledgeable about the company/industry than he really is.  If you're considering going this way, make sure to be straight with the consultant.  Embarrassing him is a sure way to produce a potent and powerful enemy.

The one thing you don't want to do, however, is to ignore the consultant's presence or think that she can't or won't impact you.

I observed this occurring while with one of my employers.  The company hired an HR consultant who sold the CEO on a leadership evaluation tool.  One of my subordinates did a particularly poorly on this assessment largely, I later learned,  because he didn't take it seriously.  Instead of thinking of his interview with the consultants as a "final exam" or as an opportunity, he decided it was a complete waste of time (I personally agreed with his opinion, by the way), and tried to make sure it took the smallest amount of his time possible.

That was a big mistake, and it cost him.  After the poor result, he was looked upon much differently by the CEO.  In this case "different" was not a good thing.

Consultants can remain embedded in the organization for a long time.  On consultant I'm familiar with has been milking one of my former employers for at least 18 years (and still counting).  Trust me when I say there is nothing anyone in management could do to dislodge her from that relationship -- the only way that happens is if she screws up, herself.

My personal experiences with getting consultants to help me advance my own agenda has been mixed.  Sometimes they see an opportunity and are sympathetic to my suggestions, while in other instances they seem to be firmly focused on their scope and mission and can't be diverted.  This almost certainly has to do with the charge they've been given by their sponsor.  I've never experienced any instance where there was a downside to trying, however.

Things do eventually change -- usually, however, at a glacial pace -- and the consultants eventually leave.  Your best bet might simply be to wait them out.

And sometimes strange things happen.

In one instance, I was the executive sponsor for an outside group brought in to perform operations consulting, and I had the entire project taken out of my hands by my boss.  He then proceeded to refocus the consultants on a completely different project, which really disrupted my plans.  But there was really little I could do about it.  Once the consultants had an opportunity to move up the organizational ladder, they jumped at it like a school of piranhas leaping at a monkey hanging over the Amazon.

In general, consultants can be a powerful political force, and one that you'd do well to respect and suspect.  Treat consultants -- particularly those with demonstrated endurance -- just as you would a strong and dangerous political opponent.  If you do this, you'll be less likely to suffer injury at their hands, and you might be able to use their work to your advantage.  15.2

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DELIVERABLES features VP of Information Technology Roger Follansbee, and introduces ex-CIA agent Joel Smith

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.   This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.