The wizarding world of consultancy

Management Consultancy is often seen as a magical world that’s both out of sight and right under our noses. Full of strange characters that speak a different language, with shadowy and suspicious motives - in movie terms, its Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings meets Inception!

There have been many aspersions cast on social media and news articles about Consulting recently. And following a recent BBC podcast series, ‘Magic Consultants’ I felt the urge to strike back. The claims are that all Consultants really do is push themselves into positions of power or alongside those with power in order to line their own pockets. The BBC podcast tries to draw the parallels with the Wizard of Oz; the façade and the curtain, the tin man had a heart all along, the lion had courage all along etc etc. So, in my retort, and to keep it light, I have decided to stick with a movie theme, using a good old movie quote to emphasise my points. Hopefully your memory of this blog, when thinking about consultants will be less “SHOW ME THE MONEY”[1] and much more “You had me at hello!”[2]

Firstly, in attempt to debunk what we actually do, what are some of the reasons organisations call in Management Consultants?

  • “We’re going to need a bigger boat!”[3] – Your organisation has a problem and you are not equipped to deal with it.
  • “When there’s something strange, in your neighbourhood…”[4] – There are changes in the market you are operating in (e.g. regulatory change, technology advancements, disruptive competitors) and you need some help to figure out what if anything you need to do.
  • “I’ll have what she’s having…”[5] – A competitor or other organisation has done something clever and you know you need to do some of that!
  • “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”[6] – All hell has broken loose on a project, it's behind, its costing too much, people have left and you need capability with a cape to sort it out.
  • “I made a promise, Mr Frodo, a PROMISE!...”[7] – A partnership where a consultancy works with you over a long period working on your biggest goals and challenges.
  • “I have a very particular set of skills…”[8] – The work you are doing is something you only do once every now and then, maybe developing a digital strategy or designing a new operating model. You don’t have those skills in-house so you bring them in on a temporary basis.

What are the benefits of working with Management Consultancies?

  • A consultant should have lots of experience in dealing with similar challenges in other organisations, its not a teacher-pupil relationship but there is always wisdom to be found in those who have done it before - “do or do not, there is no try!”[9]
  • Consultants offer an external opinion. A key part of our job is calling out things you won’t want to hear… we’re not about “You can’t handle the truth”[10], we’re about “Houston, we have a problem”![11]
  • Consultancies are good at developing options, giving you the information you need to make a decision - “You take the blue pill... the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill... you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”[12]
  • Leadership is a lonely place and consultants can be the trusted advisors that both support and challenge leaders, for example “attitude reflects leadership, captain.”[13]
  • The benefit of working with Management Consultancy firms rather than individual contractors is having the power of their collective knowledge and insight on a problem – “We’re like the Avengers, but with smaller pay-checks and more emotional baggage…”[14]

So what are some of the common myths about consultancies and what’s the other side of the story? Here’s another list. Management consultancies just:

  • … take your watch and tell you the time. Our very own Mark Bell wrote a great piece that articulately and creatively tackles this, see here. “How do you like them apples?”[15] I agree with Mark, there’s value in this skill if the pieces are all over the place, particularly with the more complex machinery.
  • … make the case of the senior person that hired them. As if we’re pulling the strings from afar… “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”[16] by simply feeding good lines to make the case for something?… “Hell No!” [17] As previous, a good consultant provides challenge and there should be good rigour in appraising options and collecting evidence for each – to arrive at an objective and scientific recommendation.
  • … provide advice, they don’t have to take any risk. “Come on, don't bulls**t me!”[18] Maybe that would be true if ‘advice’ was the currency of our business. The truth is the currency of consultancy is a mix of hard work, creativity and experience. We often deliver work for a fixed price based on an understanding of scope and the time it will take to deliver on it. We take risk in our commitment to deliver that scope for the quoted price. Often our projects are high profile, we put our reputations on the line in signing up to our work. “Come with me if you want to live”[19]… maybe that one is OTT...
  • …use fancy language to beguile and impress but it doesn’t mean anything. “English [expletive]. DO. YOU. SPEAK. IT?”[20] Consultants might have come up with some of it but I think over recent years it’s as rife in general business / every day work speak. These days I think its commonly accepted as an efficient use of language – a way of explaining something in fewer words – so, "suck it up, Buttercup" [21]!

So, on behalf of consultants everywhere, please accept we are not as sinister as all the hype. I’m not asking for sympathy, just understanding. Every consultant I have had the opportunity to work with is driven, hard-working, intelligent and wants to do good in their work. And if you’re still not convinced, well… “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”[22]

1. Jerry McGuire

2. Jerry McGuire

3. Jaws

4. Ghost Busters

5. When Harry met Sally

6. Apocalypse Now

7. The Lord of the Rings

8. Taken

9. Star Wars

10. A Few Good Men

11. Apollo 13

12. The Matrix

13. Remember The Titans

14. Deadpool

15. Good Will Hunting

16. Wizard of Oz

17. Total Recall

18. Cop Out

19. The Terminator

20. Pulp Fiction

21. Full Metal Jacket

22. Gone With The Wind

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Glenn Hogg

Managing Consultant

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