Alexis Monville (en)

On Consultants

The MIT Sloan School of Management recently published a talk that Steve Jobs delivered at MIT in 1992. During the speech, he discussed how consultants, are missing a big part of learning that you can only get when you own “something over an extended period of time.”

As a consultant, you will drop by, make some recommendations, and swing to the next company without really seen the results of your ideas.

I have been a consultant for quite some time, and when I was not a consultant, I have seen how consultants were engaging with their client. I have to agree with what Jobs said. Without having skin in the game, the ones who pay the price of the recommendation are the customers, not the consultants.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating for consultants staying for a long time in the same place, as it doesn’t change the issue. When a consultant stays for an extended period, he or she will become part of the system, and so part of the problem.

When I was working with teams, I always tried to explain using a quote from Nanny McPhee: “When you need me, but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, then I have to go.” I am not sure I remember who gave me the idea to use that quote… I would guess it is Olaf Lewitz.

With Laurent, we tried to use an approach in which we will have more skin in the game. We proposed to customers two different prices: one was at the high end of the consulting rates, the second was half the rate with a mention that we will invoice 5% of the benefits provided by the mission. We never found a customer who chooses the second option. I understand that the approach could have dramatic side effects of aiming to get the benefit in the short-term without having to care for the long-term consequences.

When I changed back to an internal position, I always insisted on being part of the team, and share not only “change,” “transformation,” or “improvement” goals, but real business goals. In doing so, I need to care at the same time for both the short-term and the long-term, and my natural tendency to welcome change avoids that the complacency of accepting the status quo.

Either you are consultants, or you hire or work with consultants, what do you think?