The Consultant’s Dilemma

It’s not always easy to get people on your side as a consultant.  You come in willing to work your rear off, but there’s a high likelihood that you either encounter a tough client, don’t get your recommendations implemented, or both.

I mentioned in my previous post that in the early stages of my experience here at Sprint, I met with several people from managers to VPs in order to pitch my project purpose and approach.  I was always introduced 1) as an MBA student from Notre Dame and 2) as an aspiring consultant.  While 1) was already tough to bear (assumption: interns don’t know anything), 2) was even worse.  100% of the time I found it necessary to follow up the introduction with a background of the 6 ½ years that I’ve spent in telecom, after which I gained acceptance.  Why was I encountering this resistance?  One person I met with said that “they come in with their fancy degrees, but they don’t contribute anything.”  Another told me specifically not to mention the name of a high profile consulting firm when pitching to other executives.  So why the hostility?

I prodded co-workers further to understand why there is such friction, and now I have a foggy background on my consultants aren’t received well.  Earlier, when cash was flowing a bit more at Sprint, consulting teams from various high-profile firms would come in, make a few recommendations, and then leave.  The decks that the teams created, while nicely done and well-researched, spent most of their time collecting dust on executives’ desks.  They never got implemented.

What’s the answer?  Though I can’t adequately answer that question at the moment because I’m currently straddling the line between consultant and industry expert, I do have a starting point.  I believe the answer is twofold:

  1. Consulting is a people business.  It’s about selling YOU.  Whether it’s doing business, making friends, or even picking up that attractive person at the bar, selling YOU is about displaying your value to the other person.  Find what sort of things about you that the client values and show how you fit into your work.  For me and my Sprint co-workers, it was about the time I spent at both Alcatel and T-Mobile.  I got respected more after they knew that I was “one of them” rather than some know-it-all from academia.  Adequately communicating your value will help get you to point #2.
  2. Participation is the greatest contributor to getting buy-in.  Ivan Raisel talks about this point in The McKinsey Way and a number of consulting books talk about it.  However, I don’t think it is quite emphasized enough.  What’s the point of detailed financial models, deep customer analyses, and beautifully crafted Powerpoint decks if they don’t get implemented?  Strategies will likely fail if completed in a silo, and participation helps mitigate this problem.

While I certainly don’t believe that there is an easy way to be a great consultant, I do think that this is a great place to start.  It can be hard to provide creative and sustainable recommendations even if you have the brightest minds at your disposal.  That being said, even with all of perceived futility that I see above, Sprint continues to hire consultants to provide creative insight and take on various tasks that they are unable to do themselves.