Consultant, Change Thyself . . .


Here’s one of my favourite consultant jokes . . .

A patient was at her doctor’s office after undergoing a complete physical examination. The doctor said, “I have some very grave news for you. You only have six months to live.”  The patient asked, “Oh doctor, what should I do?”  The doctor replied, “Marry a management consultant.”  “Will that make me live longer?” asked the patient. “No,” said the doctor, “but it will SEEM longer.”

Like most jokes, it contains a grain of truth.  Well, maybe in this case a boulder!

The global financial meltdown and ensuing recession over the past several years has led to a large number of insights and rethinking of business models.  Banking and the regulators are coming to grips with a host of new realities, as are traditional brick and mortar retailers as they compete against faster moving virtual organizations.  The increasing demands made by customers for extraordinary service plus discount prices is forcing a rethink in many industries.  The rise of social marketing is dramatically changing the world of advertising.  The list of learning and rethinking old patterns of business goes on and on.

Yet to me it is curious that the industry most pushing change, transformation and new business models seems stuck in its old way of doing business.

I’m talking about the professional consulting industry.  The approach of most major consulting firms is decades old; an army of junior consultants and a high-leverage business model which rewards maximizing billable hours.  And then there’s the question of real value add.  What is also curious to me is that during times of recession, it’s consulting and training that get cut first.  If consultants were really adding value, their services would be in even more demand during difficult times.  Yet consulting budgets are the first to be cut during a recession.

I believe it’s time for a rethink of consulting.  And here are some of the clues that tell me the old model needs to be replaced.

  1. Consulting firms aren’t the only ones with bright, young MBAs anymore.  There are plenty of well educated and experienced MBAs being attracted to companies around the world and they are armed with some of the best education and business tools available (which in times gone past were only available through  a big consulting firm).
  2. Everyone is getting fed up with an army of consultants descending upon their organization and having less than professional respect for incumbent managers and employees.  The result is often a consulting project that has the unintended consequence of alienating the very managers and employees who will have to do the implementation when the consultants leave.
  3. Over the past few years more and more CEOs are speaking out about exorbitant fees and warmed-over recommendations.
  4. Reports vs Results.  Very few consulting firms help deliver improved business performance and base their fees on actual improvements.  Analysis and recommendations are only one part of what the company requires to win in the marketplace.
  5. Over-complicating things.  Consultant-speak was interesting when it first appeared a couple of decades ago, but to most business leaders fighting to move their organization forward, it’s become tiresome, confusing and unnecessary. Businesses need straight-forward, clear, easy to communicate information and ideas.  If a consultant’s solution comes with more than three powerpoint slides, I’d begin to worry.
  6. Information vs Experience.   With the rise of the number of internet portals, articles and publications, good information is readily available.  It’s easy to get.  What businesses should be requiring from consultants is not information or theories, but experienced outsiders who know all the pitfalls and issues and who can help lead, coach and guide managers towards real improvement.  I firmly believe that most mid-level managers know more about the real issues and solutions facing a company than most outside consultants because they have the experience.   Take a look at the Lean Black-Belt training and certification process.  Where is the consulting “Black Belt Certification”?
  7. Learning at the expense of the client.  Too many young people go into consulting to “learn about business”.  Wait a minute, I thought the role of consulting was to bring solutions and new ideas, not as a training ground for juniors.  The training ground for business should be business, the real world of problems, politics, multiple demands, multiple stakeholders, bad bosses, good bosses, real life!
I’m certain there are other clues, but that’s enough for me.  So why haven’t the big consulting firms applied their change methodologies and reinvention principles on themselves?  Why are they still flogging the old leverage model? 

It begs the uncomfortable question as to whether they are in business to help clients succeed or to maximize billable hours?  I’d love to attend a conference entitled: Rethinking Consulting!  So would a few CEOs I know.  Today many organizations are transforming their businesses by listening to their customers.  Consultants should do the same.

Tight Lines . . . 

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to Consultant, Change Thyself . . .

  1. Pingback: Disruptive Innovation in Consulting . . . | John R Childress . . . rethinking

  2. Pingback: A McKinsey survey I’d like to see . . . | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

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