Published in TDAN.com April 2002
I really enjoy consulting. Consulting has given me many opportunities to meet and work alongside a wide variety of fascinating people that are full of ideas about how they want their business to
run and how to get there. Day-in and day-out, client-in and client-out, consultants are exposed to new business perspectives and newer technologies that can be used (with guidance, of course) to
lead clients to better manage and leverage their data, information and knowledge. This I enjoy.
There are also some tough aspects of the whole consulting “gig”. First and foremost, the economy doesn’t help. Many people that were corporate employees days, weeks, months and
even years ago are becoming consultants because … they need to find a job. This has increased the number of consultants (and wannabe consultants) that are available by a significant
percentage. Some of these folks bring a lot of experience and know-how with them. Others just want to be consultants because they heard (or witnessed) that the life of a consultant is glorious
Certainly, living out of hotel rooms and being away from the family for days or weeks at a time (as many consultants do) is really glorious. Worrying about where you are going to find work or
having no say in where you will be assigned next is a lot of fun too. So is dealing with company politics and I don’t just mean client politics. Consultants always have at least two mammas
and are tasked with keeping both of them happy or it can be “hit the road, Jack”. Loyalty to and from consulting firms (just like ballplayers allegiance to their teams) has become a
distant memory for even the strongest team players. Being a consultant is glorious, yep.
Want more? … Being considered an expert because “we brought you in for what you know” and being pressured into giving expectedly perfect advice all of the time is also glorious. Being set
in a small desk or in any “open” space, read cubicle, hole in the wall, hallway (that happened to me once), and being treated as an outsider (we are outsiders) is also glorious. Still want to be
The individuals that make good consultants (and not just hired hands) have the business, technical, and most importantly communications skills required to handle the variety of environments to
which they may be exposed. This can be challenging (which is good) but often very difficult, especially in the cases where you have several demanding clients at the same time. The clients should be
demanding especially when they are paying the consultants handsomely. If you can deal with this type of pressure, maybe consulting is for you. Consulting certainly is not for everybody.
I have been on several sides of the career fence (are there more than two?). I have worked for companies with as few as 18 employees and as many as 50,000 employees. I have serviced (as a
consultant) companies and government agencies of those same sizes. One observation that I have made is that there is one consistent trait that appears within all people that are successful. The
successful people were willing to work hard. Ask anyone who is successful.
If you hire a consultant that knows his or her stuff, and they bring with them the full range of skills that define successful projects, you and your company should expect to have to work darn hard
to learn from what this consultant knows. Isn’t that what you hired them for in the first place? Because they are in the “know” and you aren’t? There is no shame to this
… you can’t know everything (neither can the consultant) and why not learn from somebody (a.k.a. a consultant) who has demonstrated sufficiently to you that they know what needs to be
done and that they can teach you the same. Hiring a consultant makes sense when they have not only the “technical” ability to solve the problem but they have the communications skills
to transfer that knowledge to you. Knowledge is what consulting is all about. But YOU don’t get this knowledge unless you work hard at accumulating it.
Time-and-time again I see clients and companies hire consultants, whether they are solution architects or staff augmentation, and when the engagement comes to an end (or when the client money runs
out) the consultant leaves. That can be a good thing when you consider that you don’t want to pay a consultant forever.
However, when the consultant leaves, the single most valued portion of the commodity that you just purchased leaves with the consultant. And the knowledge that the consultant brings with them is
only a small fraction of what leaves. Consultants spend time getting to know YOU, your business, and your environment. Certainly the good consultant will use that knowledge in their next assignment
and, in the case of the firm I work for, share that knowledge with all of the consultants in the firm.
Aha … consultants work hard at leaving smarter than they came. Do you make a point of being smarter too? Shouldn’t you make consultants record what they have learned while on your dime
and leave it behind, mentor their counterparts on how to best use the recorded information, and build a repository of what is now known about your organization? Shouldn’t you make certain
that you build enough time into the consultant’s schedule to transfer knowledge to you? Shouldn’t you build enough time into your organization’s schedule to work hard to absorb
everything the consultant has to offer? The answer of “yes” to these questions comes with a cost (there was a charge for the consultant anyway), but this answer also comes with a tremendous
Companies that work hard to learn what their consultants know find that they are much more selective of who they hire, or who the consulting company or staffing company assigns to their account.
Often that selection of the “best” consultant can only come from face-to-face conversation so the person (or people) hiring the consultant can make certain that they see
“eye-to-eye” on the knowledge transfer portion of what they are buying. This can be rough on the consultant. There is no fooling these types of clients. They know what they want and
they also know when they are going to get it.
So, … the next time you go to hire a consultant, first ask yourself, “Am I (or is my company) willing to work hard and apply myself to gain the knowledge and the experience that is
being offered by the consultant?” Second ask yourself, “Does the consultant have the ability and the track record of transferring the previously mentioned types of knowledge to me and
my organization?” In my humble opinion, the only time to hire a consultant is when the answer to both of these questions is “yes”.