Those that can, do; those that can’t, consult
Winnipeg I need your help, I wanting to know if the above title has any merit? I suppose I’m looking for some clarification or answers to the following questions, and before someone mentions the need to employ a consultant to help, forget it, I seem to be living in the land where it seems every other person is in that profession.
I’d like to paint the picture from an outsider looking in, since moving to the city six years ago and setting up office from the US & UK I have had a few problems trying to comprehend local business thinking and decision making.
Let me try and explain, 99% of consultants I have met in my six years in Winnipeg have either had their own business and failed, worked for a company that failed, got fired, came out of a local college, were unemployed so it seemed like a good idea, did a 2 day course or there a part-time stay at home mum. Most work out of a home office or basement and like to charge what we call New York prices for their work. I’ve seen life & business coaches charging $500-$1000 for a few hour course or speech who drive around in a 10 year old rusty Chevvy but get employed by local business & marketing associations to advise members. Does this not set alarm bells ringing to these people?
These people who consult don’t have any more experience than you do. They are typically young, but not necessarily. They can certainly “talk the talk” but have never “walked the walk”. In other words they are big on theory, some have lots of qualifications but very little real-life experience to match. In many instances, as a hands-on business manager, you may well have already exceeded their ability to help you advance your enterprise any further.
Then there is the dangerous kind – the dodgy consultant. You often can’t really determine whether these people are good, bad or indifferent until it is too late. They often originate from outside of the city or are returning Winnipeggers with seemingly immense international experience. Their objective is clearly to impress.
They will blind you with tales of their achievements and impressive examples of their triumphs in the markets you are trying to enter. Unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, and often it is.
In reality if the same consultant fronted for a corporate job his ability and track record would be quickly found out. How? Well corporates approach employing senior executives quite differently to the way most of us employ a consultant. Not only do the businesses undertake verbal reference tests but they have extensive international networks of contacts to tap into and a range of psychological and other testing at their fingertips. Too many of us approach employing a consultant as you would select any other service provider — as opposed to a critical member of your team.
This is not a new story but I feel it is worth repeating because I have recently been running into cases where a fledgling company (and sometimes not so fledgling) has engaged with someone, or some firm, and suffered badly from false expectations. A person (or firm) can appear to have an impressive track record, look very smooth and professional and have money to invest, but this doesn’t mean they are not the consulting equivalent of Typhoid Mary.
When considering using a consultant I make three key recommendations:
1. Look closely at their track record. You are looking for tangible results and an understatement of their ability as opposed to “talking the talk”. Contact the companies they say they have worked for and/or helped.
2. Try to check out their ex-partners/employers. You are looking for someone with whom you can form a close relationship. Look for past examples of the same thing. You want to establish that the consultant has personal attributes that you can work with. It doesn’t matter how long they have been consulting — check.
3. Use your own networks. Guys like me who have been in the game a long time hear the same names circulating time and time again with question marks over their performance. Often it is more critical to listen to what is not said about a person, than what is said. You don’t need the most professional consultant – you need the most effective. I’m just saying.