Are we better off leveraging experts?

imageUse of consultants in business is commonplace for many reasons. Consultants are often used to focus undistracted on change work, especially as they are bonded to bring about change. They can be seen to be more capable to be effective when perceived as having no vested interest or legacy systems baggage. 

They can also provide expert advice on finite or given change objectives and bring high end objectivity on such things as blue ocean opportunities. Using consultants for decision management is also useful to mitigate risk of internal limits.

On a past consultancy engagement, I got some valuable experience on what all care and no responsibility means. While advising a large US based multi-national on a change process, part of this work involved my attendance at a high level internal think tank as an invited observer. There my client, the VP for Planning, made an impromptu request of me to present his corporate strategy on a change program we had been working on together. His compelling reason was that it is was far better I delivered it, as a so-called credible expert advisor, so they could be objective to discuss any buy-in issues.  This also highlighted another high value I brought. In the event that the plan failed to get buy-in, it would then be easier to just shoot the messenger without any collateral damage. Needles to say my facilitation was focused to make that sure they bought it so the change was a success.

At a  recent workshop, one of my colleagues attended in Singapore they were discussing the value questions there about consultants and their employee counterparts. The group comprised of a mix of employees and consultants all engaged in business to advise on change processes and related IT based projects Specially they looked at the decision making of short term thinkers who may cause long term harm to organization stakeholders.

The debate was initiated with the assertion: 

“When making long term decisions, management may be better off leveraging experts rather than relying only on internal resources.”

Clearly, knowledge and skill in the organization is vital to decisions. But it is necessary to mitigate risk of decision making by employees especially as most do not see themselves in the company for the next 5 years. 

One assertion often made is that a company must seek ways to obviate the risk this presents so long term decisions benefit the company without compromise. The short term aims of individuals who made them,  is often to use that experience to get a better job elsewhere, long before they can be held accountable for the results.

In random order here are some of the pros and cons from the discussion:

  1.  Employees often make short term business decisions on Long Term Strategy because they want to “lock in” the rewards that are tied to short term results. (Example: year-end bonuses and next year increment/promotion).
  2. Professional employees actually consider themselves as in-house consultants, with reputations to lose and live up to, so short term gain is less likely to be a compromising factor.
  3. Employees in management jobs are expected to have  the ability to deliver sustainable outcomes by meeting short term objectives as proof.
  4.  In high staff turnover business generations of employees will change previous decisions anyway.
  5. In low turnover companies a short term trade-off culture is not tolerated.
  6. Too much long term thinking could lead to Companies becoming stagnant.
  7. Consultants, especially those tied to a solution may by nature be biased to fixed ideas and may also present short term compromise.
  8. Good consultants provide expert input based on a wide range of experience.
  9. Employees as they change roles and jobs can often be more effective than consultants.
  10.   Business consultants must rely on internal expertise anyway for information and support relationship for internal selling ideas.
  11.    Compromise potential is reduced when an experienced export  consultant leads the decision analysis process.
  12.   Consultants and advisors can have an advantage as many think naturally about the long term as part of their business.
  13.     Consultants relate to customers not as employers and act to ensure relationships  last way beyond the short term. Short term success on their decisions gives them this so they can maintain continuity to support long term executions.
  14.   Developing customers is a strategic aim of consultants for customer retention.
  15.    If consultants do not think strategically they will show up  as being just contractors, with no more value to add than the cheaper version of employee.
  16.   Consultants work in the same culture and face the same compromise to meet short term goals of their business. This may equally translate to their customer.
  17. To survive business must think short term. Long term is never more than 5 years.
  18.   Consider an ideal that a culture can be established in an organization where everyone, employees consultants and  extended service providers alike, think of themselves as their own boss with only the customer holding them accountable.
  19.   Consultants by nature generate new ideas and stimulate clients to achieve something that the are capable of. They challenge the norm.
  20.   Employers should give incentives so people think like a business owner  to add the value they are paid to deliver. If everyone has this same mindset, results will be predictable and deliverables will be of the highest quality and last longer.

On balance it seems consultants and employees both have a place. The reality that maintains the need for expert consulting may be based on a need for external stimulus and focus and accountability, to deliver a different style of thinking with motivation for more balanced outcomes.

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