Consultants – Part 4: When Not To Engage

Hiring external expertise to solve problems means making a major commitment to select and utilize this specialized resource. It is not inexpensive. On the occasions where internal consultancy will work just as well, there is probably a greater need for careful consideration before committing resources. Just because such a decision would be utilizing assets already onboard doesn’t mean that it is a sunk cost.  Any diversion of resources from daily operations requires an expenditure of time and money. The bottom line is that not every idea is a solution looking for a question. Not every question implies that a major upheaval is needed that would require the focus and attention of dedicated resources. There are also instances in which it would be foolish to do so. 

It should be intuitive, but decisions will often be made to turn to a specialized task force when it is totally unnecessary or for the wrong reasons.

  • No Objectives – There is no need to call in someone to pilot the ship if it is rudderless and without direction. Someone in charge must sound the alarm that a problem exists before calling in the problem solvers. The first step in any consultant’s methodology is to define the problem before searching for alternatives. The homework assignment for the home team is to have a general idea about the goals before engagement.
  • Multiple Problems – The classic case of suboptimization is to fix one component of a system and the overall system still fails because of something else. Broad scope objectives may be the ultimate goal for projects, but without considering and prioritizing each unique situation can lead to a tangled mess with no possible solutions. Identification of interconnected issues and attacking each one allows for the best chance for success.
  • Decisions Already Made – One of the worst wastes of resources is to call in a so-called expert to validate decisions that have already been made by management. This could be the result of a credibility problem with leadership or an ego stroking exercise, but in either case there is a deeper cultural issue that is to blame. There is also the risk that the expert may disagree with the decision entirely and throw the system into total disarray.
  • No Executive Buy-in – There is very little likelihood that the published results from a consultant’s work will be adopted if the management style of the company is by CEO alone or Executive fiat. There are countless archived studies gathering dust that were doomed from the start due to MBEW… Management by Executive Whim. It is perfectly acceptable for the person responsible for the direction of the company to make the decisions, but it is not necessary to hire consultants if they will not be heard or understood.

There will always be hungry consulting firms willing to take your money for their expert advice whether you take it or not. The better consultants will narrow the scope and negotiate deliverables before engagement. The best consultants will be willing to provide feedback for free if the answer is, “You don’t need us.”

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