Magic bullets in management consulting

“I like to con people. And I like to insult people. If you combine “con” and “insult”, you get consult,” observes Dogbert, a comic-strip character. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of interesting and disturbing stories from organizations about their experiences with management consultants. Business often doesn’t have a very good impression of consultants, and for good reason.  Anyone can become a management consultant if they can sell the perception of ‘expertise.’   Barriers to entry are low and people with newly minted MBA’s go into consulting, individuals who are retiring after decades of working in an organization go into consulting, job seekers who are in-between jobs become consultants, etc. etc. Many consultants sell the ‘magic bullet’ to companies who are looking for a fix to business stagnation, growth challenges, and people issues.  After nearly 25 years of experience in the consulting business, I can tell you, there are no ‘magic bullets’ that solve organizational challenges; just common sense, expertise, a profound understanding of business, and a pragmatic and transparent process to achieve the desired outcomes.

Expertise, transparency, and results are the foundation of a management consulting practice.  The old adage of “caveat emptor” – buyer beware, should be front of mind when assessing how a management consultant can work with you and the value that they bring.  Over a coffee meeting, a business colleague shared a disturbing story with me about what can happen when a consultant, who, in this case was selling extraordinary team performance, came into the organization without process consulting expertise and consulting credentials.  My business colleague believed that this consultant could really help to develop a team culture with engaged and high performing employees.  Over the course of a year, the consultant alienated all the employees and turned them against the business owner, brought in another manager to work with him, and eventually attempted a hostile takeover of the company.  So much for developing a high performance team!  The company was brought to its knees by dysfunction and financial challenges as a result of the unethical and unprofessional practices of a non-credentialed consultant. Thankfully, this business colleague was able to forge ahead and put the business back on track.  However, this colleague will never look at a consultant in the same way again.

Consulting is so much more than having expertise or a “magic bullet” product or approach; it’s about ethics, professional interaction with clients, a transparent process, and defined outcomes.  A consultant who has passed the requirements of the Canadian Association of Certified Management Consultants (CAMC) comes to an organization with a firm understanding of ethics and business practices and processes related to consulting.  If you want to hire a consultant who is not certified, make sure you know what you are buying and that the consultant you are hiring can provide references that attest to their expertise and ability to deliver on outcomes using a transparent and no-biased process.   And lastly, recognize and don’t buy “magic bullets!”