On Consultants and Consulting

Thanks again to Pradyot for posting

and spurring my desire to comment 🙂

Is it really a good idea to take someone with absolutely no work-experience and ask them to advise organisations ?? A lot of what Keith says is indicative of what happens when you take someone who has never led a team , never made decisions that affect multiple teams and groups, never had the opportunity to develop cultural sensitivity and team building skills, and then ask them to provide ‘advise’ to ‘clients’. What Keith went through, comes from the idealistic instincts that anyone fresh out of college has. Academics train us to solve n-factorial problems where you can analyse each factor after you hold other factors constant. Academics rarely teach you the fundamentals of human behavior and the sociology of teams and organisations. What Keith talks about is issues he’d find in any organisation, even those in the US ! By talking fresh graduates and putting them into advisory roles, we end up doing a dis-service to them – We make the idea that an individual can simply theorize and experiment with the client’s business system based on theories/frameworks without contextual customizations, very justifiable.

It is important that consultants remember why they are called into any consulting engagement – They are called in because the client organisation needs some type of change. It is impractical to expect that someone who has little knowledge of the working world, will be able to communicate assertively and lead from the front to make change happen on issues that an organisation is facing . The consulting industry today has a dangerous predilection for frameworks, abstraction and certifications – When we disconnect knowledge from experience and operate from the ideal scenario as a benchmark,we are waiting for disaster to happen.

Sometimes, it seems to me that consultants are called to smooth the curves of interpersonal dynamics and act as a neutral 3rd party that fulfills objectives that the sponsor wants to achieve. Working in such an environment requires patience ,persistence and a real desire to implement the change. In my opinion, the scope of the engagement decides what you want to do and where you can stop.

Consulting and advisory services are two different things. Consulting would involve helping the client with the ‘How’ aspects of creating change and resolving issues…Advisory services simply focus on telling the customer ‘what’ needs to be done. In cases where the role is purely advisory, it is best that there advisory organisation have no commercial interest in the organisation and be working for a fee. Client Engagement process is the layering of consulting and advising ;How the client engagement manager profiles the scope and the required resources will often decide how effective the engagement is – For the client and for the consulting team.

Sometimes, consultants are called in to do the ‘ Dirty work’ -Someone at the top of the food chain has already got a vision and an idea that he/she wants to implement – Now the task of making a ‘logical’ case for that and identifying the pitfalls has to be given out to someone outside the organisation who doesn’t have an agenda of their own. So a consulting firm is called in to flesh out the details and make the case. Unfortunately, it cannot be asserted that consulting firms dont have an agenda – Anyone who gets paid for a knowledge service they offer is bound by ‘Principal-Agent’ dynamics..

I haven’t consulted in the US,but I have worked in that region. Keith’s assertion that his ‘rigorous’ education makes him more qualified or capable of corporate management is pure ignorance – We all know where the AIGs, Enrons and Lehman’s of the world have come from.Education does not guarantee corporate governance. The challenges that Middle East faces comes from the high level of inter-community distrust that exists between the various groups here and from the sudden wealth that they discovered.

As someone who grew up in the middle east and has returned to consulting in middle east after 20 years, I agree with Keith’s assertion here that the Emiratis would have been better off investing in Education…However,it doesn’t surprise me that they have not – After all, most of Middle East, regardless of whether they accept it or not,are imitating the material instincts of American life while trying hard to retain all the rituals associated with their cultural identity. Even the association with wide-brush business consultants is predominantly American Corporate trait.

There is some truth in what Keith speaks about the practice of consulting in this region but I think his problems were of his own making – He comes across as someone who chose a consulting career for the wrong reasons and then compounded his problems by taking a passive approach to his career. Now dont get me wrong – I am not saying that the clean slate analytical thinking skills of a fresh graduate engineer are a misfit for the Consulting firm.. What I am asking for ,is that the consulting firm put in a coaching and mentoring framework that allows upward transfer of ground realities and a downward transfer of perspective. Maybe Keith would have had a different perspective if he had a manager who could coach and mentor him, someone who could help him look beyond the money and the glamour of CXO suite interactions! Business Consulting is what starts after you have spent time understanding the organisation, built relations and done your ‘Needs and gaps’ assessments. And it doesnt stop with advisory reports thrown off to the other side of the fence. Many consultants want the low hanging fruits – Easy consulting assignments where they can be paid big bucks for their socializing skills, jargon centered drivel and fancy degrees. Almost anyone who has graduated recently and has less than 3-4 years of experience will say that their education really hasn’t been used much.. But with experience and an open mind, massive patterns will get built and you suddenly realize that the little pieces from that massive body of knowledge you picked at during your years in the college do have purpose and can truly be applied in real time decisions if we look beyond tools like Excel based models.


~ by exploreamaze on April 13, 2010.

10 Responses to “On Consultants and Consulting”

  1. Remember, if you have done a MBA from a worthwhile institute and are then trained and groomed in consulting you can turn out to be a better consultant than all those old people with 100+ years of overburdened baggage. You will have a fresh perspective and will speak from the experience, not just your own, but of hundreds of other cases. Of course someone who hasnt done a MBA, or doesnt have a clue of the value a MBA can add, will not be able to assimilate this theory and will stick with the conventional “I have 100 years experience hence I am 100 times better”. Gone are the days when CEOs would be the oldest in the organization, this is the age of the swanky young CEOs with fresh ideas and a new outlook. “New” is the new buzzword, so it is not wise to harp on the “give me experience and i will give you consulting assignments”.

    Unfortunately I cannot follow your return comments, the mail id i give is a fake one because i cannot disclose my identity. But I come from one of the most reputed consulting agencies in the world, one of the top 3. I have 10 years experience in consulting and 5 years experience in core industry. I am running a program with a bunch of newcomer MBAs from the top Business schools and I have an agenda to groom them into becoming consultants much better than the 10 + experience guys like me and hence I feel very strongly about this. I know all top consulting companies which include McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Mercer and other top names are also following this path. Remember a person, in 10 years can have limited knowledge about experiences in life. However a person trained in experiences can have unlimited experiences. And a trained and groomed consultant with 10 years of knowledge is like superman in the world of humans.

    I wish you all the best in your ventures, but remember, talking about “years of experience” is like jumping off the cliff in the consulting world, it is a suicidal phrase, outdated and very close to extinction. Years of experience do not matter, deep thinking, knowledge, awareness and aptitude for innovation now has a new buzzword… grooming. So watch out for the young blood.

    I feel bad that I cannot follow up on this comment.


  2. @Anonymous – None of the points you make are ‘new’ or require ‘deep thinking’ . Like many consultants, you are giving me some new jargon and fads. Your comment makes me believe that you haven’t read my post – what you call ‘grooming’, I have already referred to that – It is called ‘ coaching and mentoring’. Reading about experience is not the same as getting experience. Would you hire someone to fly an aircraft just because he has read all the operating manuals for the aircraft and can ‘ deeply think’ about all the scenarios ? As a consultant, I think it is irresponsible to send inexperienced people unsupervised into a client environment where the impact of their decisions could be disastrous. Experience does matter – not in terms of the years but in terms of depth and how deeply that experience has been assimilated – an MBA is no guarantee of that !

    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone provided by mobily

  3. @ Deepak- Typical consultant reply…bull shit on full blast…

  4. even more true for the the anonymous man …. ” superman….experiences learning.” hahah what load of crap..

  5. @bk – I appreciate your comment – You are entitled to your opinions 🙂 ..Atleast you only considered my reply as B******t and Not my entire post ! I am curious as to why my reply piqued you, Will be great if you can clarify that! I happen not be an MBA at this moment and I dont particularly like jargon and unnecessary abstraction. The only thing I can think of is that I chose to use a point-counterpoint method that many consultants do use in negotiations!

  6. @Deepak- My curiosity brings me back 🙂
    1. I do not give “new” or “deep thinking” to random blog articles that do not deserve it, I get paid a lot of money to do that, so I guess you will appreciate you cant expect me to do it for free

    2. I am not a MBA, I coach MBAs and teach in business schools 🙂

    3. If you think “new” and “deep thinking” are jargons, then you need to go to a business school where you will hear jarogons which will doubt your knowledge of English

    4. Your comparison of a pilot to a consultant is as irrelevant as it can get, shows the typical kind of hole consultants dig for themselves by doing absurd and irrelevant comparisons. Consulting is not a “physical” profession and does not risk peoples lives it is an “intellectual” profession where your intellect matters more than “experience”. Remember even pilots get trained in virtual environments, but i think your comparing flying to consulting shows that you do not understand consulting!!

    5. Who said they are unsupervised?? Of course they are supervised. They are supervised by the best and the most skilled consultants, but sometimes they bring in perspectives even their “supervisors” cannot think of.

    6. “how deeply that experience has been assimilated” No offence but i refer to this as verbal diarrhoea, a condition in which your english is stronger than your thoughts and logic

    7. You sound like an IT consultant. If you are then sorry to be biased, but I do not think IT consultants are consultants, they are more like developers pretending to be consultants. I was talking about management and concept consulting and not IT consulting

  7. Aha! So. Anonymous@IBM-EMEA it is!

    I am not an IT guy nor do I consult in the IT space- so the IT consulting comment doesn’t apply to me – I do agree with your comment on IT consulting. I appreciate the fact that you work for IBM and have an opinion on IT consulting.

    Anyways, beyond doubt, you and I cannot agree on what consulting is. A management consultant can do more harm than just risking individual lives – He/she can permanently damage organizations that employ hundreds of people. I am sure you have read through the content that IMC publishes regularly about being a ‘responsible’ consultant. Anyways, I don’t subscribe to the superiority feelings or ‘intellectual’ annotations for consulting as a profession. In fact, I’d rather not assign a halo to any profession. You can make whatever comments you want about my English, my logic or my thoughts – I can’t care less. Just like you and many others in consulting industry,I get paid for those aspects as well as the result I help others get. I have the kind gratitude of those who have benefited from it and that’s what matters to me.

    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone provided by mobily

  8. Grammar typos made because I was in a client location with a faulty keyboard and totally distracted:P
    “will hear jarogons which will MAKE YOU doubt your knowledge of English”
    “I AM paid a lot of money to do that”

  9. Please note that I DO NOT work for IBM. Please do not jump to conslusions without confirmation based on IP addresses and publish your conclusions publicly.

  10. Also, note that at no point did I mention that “Intellectual” is superior to “physical” work, I just said that they are different and Consulting is intellectual, have no clue why you would imagine I even hinted at it being superior. I dont know where you got that from, maybe its more in your head than mine… for me each profession is respectable in itself, its just that intellectual is different from physical professions like constructing a building, or physical skilled jobs like flying a plane. Have no clue why you think I am “putting a halo”.. what the heck, consulting is a job like any other!!

    Agree with your thought on “A management consultant can do more harm than just risking individual lives”

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