Why Do Traditional Consulting Projects Fail?
Tricarico states that, “When my previous employer would hire consultants, our staff would go through a lot of time-consuming work to bring the consultants up to speed on our business. At the end of the engagement, the consultants would present me with a report of their recommendations, as it was my job to operationalize their findings. It then became my responsibility to get my staff to do what the report was recommending, even though we were already overtasked and under-resourced.”
This is but one reason why consultants get a bad rap. Here are more:
Personal characteristics of consultants:
The qualities of a good consultant include both soft skills and industry or functional expertise. The consultant must be willing to deliver bad news to an organization’s top leadership, even if it means risking the engagement itself. When a consultant observes that processes or structures are not optimized, they must be willing to share their findings with the client who has hired them.
Accordingly, if a consultant has sub-par communication skills, the engagement itself is at risk.
Dependency on “one-size fits all”:
Consultants who have become proficient in executing turn-arounds in one industry or sector may fall victim to the belief that what worked for one client will work for another. They can become victims of their own success by repeatedly deploying similar management, consulting, and organizational models.
A model’s simplicity, transferability, and fact-orientation encourages its use. However, there is also the reality of the individual organization to take into consideration.
When traditional consultants rely too heavily upon top-down models, they run the risk of not fully understanding the client’s unique circumstances and consequently failing to meet the client’s objective.
Consideration of numbers, data, and facts in isolation:
Numbers, data, and facts comfort consultants, as they run analyses and make recommendations, and they can provide meaningful insights to management when it comes to decision-making. However, they are only half (at most) of the equation in considering an organization’s existence.
Organizations must be viewed as a multidimensional confluence of people and networks that are acting and reacting to layers of psychological, social, and organizational behavior. Consultants who view numbers, data, and facts in isolation, are not considering all of the business’s components.
Over-reliance upon short-term management trends:
Traditional consultants are exposed to new management trends and insights through their often broad networks within the business (and sometimes academic) communities. These connections allow them to be in-the-know almost immediately once a new trend or management technique hits the market.
This can benefit companies through the provision of new and innovative practices that might be a fit for the client. However, “new and innovative” can also mean “untested and risky”. The guinea pig in this scenario is the client’s employees, systems, and business.
Traditional consultants who rely too heavily on the latest management trend run the risk of offering advice that ultimately does not serve them, or their clients, well.
Problematic client-consultant relationships:
Social factors and “fit” between consultant and client may be overlooked in traditional consulting, as the reliance on hard factors such as data and research have outsized importance in this model.
While not often given their due, since consultant engagements are typically short-term and thus dissonance in the relationship is temporary, the social connection and interaction between client and consultant is important to ensuring a successful project.
Top-down perspective is not sustainable:
Traditional consultants are often hired by top management due to their reputation as experts, which lends itself to a dictatorial approach to what needs to be done in a client’s organization. In turn, the client then pressures the consultant for (quick) change and (quick) success - after all, they’re the experts, right? In this sense, the consultant serves as a proxy for senior management: they put the pressure on staff to execute quick changes and demonstrable results.
When the engagement wraps up, people and processes naturally return to their prior state since maintaining the pace set by the consultants is unsustainable without the necessary support structures in place.
Tricarico adds, “The great thing about bringing in consultants was that our corporate leadership listened to their ideas. The downside was that after they presented their report, they left! I knew that if the day ever came where I myself was a consultant, I wanted to be one who actually DOES something.”
She adds, “I wanted to be a consultant who was not only listened to, but who executed on the recommendations that I presented. I wanted to build a team around me who could do the same thing.”