I thought I’d start a new year with some advice about the advice business. Here are nine things I’ve learned don’t work when it comes to using consultants (including Magellan):
- Hiring consultants for what they used to know. Experience ages, sometimes quite quickly. Hire someone who can solve the problems you will have, not the ones you once had.
- Equating expertise in one area with expertise in all areas. I’m good at certain things, but I’m not expert at everything in publishing. Very few people are; choose the advisor who fits your need.
- “Just get them in here and we’ll figure it out as we go.” Expensive, likely unproductive, frustrating for both sides.
- “Let them handle the sticky situations.” Okay, consultants have long been used as the bad cop, but how much sense does it make to hire someone to surface disagreements you already know exist? You pay a lot less addressing these problems first.
- “We don’t want to prejudice them, so let’s hold back on the things we’ve done before.” Every consultant benefits from seeing what came before. If you’ve hired someone whose opinion is easily swayed by other work, you may have hired the wrong consultant.
- Not involving the staff. There are some (strategic) initiatives that might be assessed at a senior level, but the results of even those assignments have to be implemented by staff. Creating awareness and buy-in is a good thing.
- Waiting until the final presentations to see the work. Good consultants form hypotheses from their first conversations with clients. That doesn’t mean each hypothesis is right, and they do get tested. You should ask early on to hear their thinking.
- “We’ll get their recommendations and go from there.” You can call this the “process change is easy” fallacy, and both consultants and clients fall prey. You want recommendations you can implement; knowing what they are early on helps both clients and consultants develop plans that “stick”.
- Leaving implementation to the consultants. There is some appeal in linking “idea” and “responsibility”, and certainly there is value in continuing to work with consultants who diagnosed the problem. Things start to go off the tracks when clients see implementation as a consulting activity alone. If the initiative is important, senior managers need to own it.
Up next: Five ways to go right with a consultant.