We all want a greater return or more impact for our time invested. We’re all too harried with scattered but important responsibilities to want anything else. As a management consultant, I feel this intensely.
Yesterday, I posted some common client complaints on consulting collected by a colleague at a cocktail party—I swear he’s more fun than he sounds right now. While his methods may imprecise, the general sentiment shared echoes across the internet. Anecdotes of wasted time and disappointing results significantly outnumber the rave reviews. Some suggested that consultants themselves are the problem. The argument goes that consultants are driven to exaggerate or complicate problems for business gain. Billing more hours equals higher revenue.
This isn’t surprising but it does bum me out. And, it just doesn’t ring true for me—and I know a shitload of consultants. If anything, at times we’re guilty of staffing projects with a less-than-optimal mix because of cost constraints, conflicting demands, or time pressures then hoping for the best.
Instead of something nefarious, I think there are some much more basic, human patterns at play. To the degree you can generalize a diverse pool of technical skills and backgrounds, consultants are people pleasers. We’re hardwired to take on other’s problems as our own and have a difficult time NOT trying to reengineer everything from paperwork at the doctor’s office to the lunch line at Panera to data center consolidations.
Like many, consultants hate to disappoint and want people to like us. This can get extreme when you feel very personally judged and evaluated on a pretty regular basis. Unfortunately, this un-talked about fear drives some risk mitigation activities like over-collecting data, playing it safe on recommendations, and watering down the truth when we sense the hard messages (especially around the client's team performance) aren’t welcome.
After skimming some of the more practical suggestions on ways to build impact back in to consulting projects and overcome some of these challenges, I assembled the following short list.
- Immediately reorient the project plan to the client’s goals vs. the contractual deliverables
- Divide the project (ideally even the task orders) into shorter cycles, 6-8 weeks was considered best
- Insist on smaller teams
- Make both sides accountable for the results—build financial incentives in to the contract so that a portion of fee is on the line
These can TOTALLY work with federal—you just need a little advance planning and client and contracting team willing to try something different for a potentially much greater return.