Why You Should Never Use Consultants


Red robot on orange background

The first in a two part “Siriusly Speaking” series.

There are lots of management consultants in the NHS and public sector. This is now common and so the question of employing such people is relevant in every public sector organisation - essentially funded by us as taxpayers.

Use of external consultants/business advisors is something which tends to ebb and flow with the political (with a small 'p') environment of the day. Having worked in the NHS for nearly 23 years, good use of the ever-decreasing public purse is something dear to my heart.

As someone who now runs my own business, I need to ask 'If this were my business what would I do?' Would I employ management consultants?

Well, let me give you three reasons why I wouldn’t.

1. They don’t understand my organisation

Consultants often have their own perspective. They have experience of course and have worked in lots of different places, but is that enough? I have seen and worked with consultants who really are just a one trick pony. They have one solution which they nuance and tweak to fit whatever problem they can find. I remember a conversation on Channel 4’s “The Peep Show” when one character was trying to recruit another to his fledgling consultancy:

“But I can’t do this. I’m not a management consultant!”

“Sure you are. All you need to do is go in, read lots of documents, tell them to re-brand and restructure the staff. That’s all there is to it!”

Before you decide to engage a consultant, think about who you have already got. Can you re-focus a team, or give an individual new responsibility? Internal people can do a great job for you.

2. They are expensive

I have seen some criminally high day rates flying around. People who pitched to me with promises of MBAs, PhD’s, 14 hour days etc. and then stung me with a stratospheric day rate that I could have used to pay off my mortgage, or perhaps employed more permanent people.

So before you engage a consultant, test the market, read the small print and negotiate. If they really want the job and can deliver a good solution for you, they will be flexible, or have a powerful argument that proves they give great value.

3. In the end they don’t make a difference

We have all seen external consultants come and go. They give great presentations, produce good looking strategies and talk a good plan. But three months after they have left what is different about your business? How are customers getting a better deal? How are you saving money, or how have they enhanced your market offer?

Before you sign on the dotted line, be crystal clear about what success looks like. Make sure they understand that you are paying them to deliver outcomes A, B and C. You are not that interested in outputs, you want change.

So don’t be seduced by the silver tongued consultant. Ask questions, push back and challenge, and make sure you are getting good value for the public pound!

Next week, I will try and defend the much maligned consultant and explain why sometimes, just sometimes, they are the best thing since thinly sliced Hovis.

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