Friday, July 27, 2007

Study Says Management Consultants Aren’t All That Special

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recently reported on a study they conducted that said the belief in business that management consultants are instrumental in spreading new ideas in organizations is exaggerated and misleading. The consultant’s image as an expert outsider, bringing new knowledge to their clients, is contradicted by their findings in a three-year study.

The study concludes that management consultants are often more project workers or project managers than “idea people”.

You can read the report yourself and draw your own conclusions, but I say if this study was meant to knock the consulting profession down a peg or discredit it all together it’s done a very poor job.

I don’t think most management consultants, or consultants in general, will ever claim that what they do is innovative or groundbreaking. Some may claim to be one-of-a-kind or a trailblazer in their respective field of consulting, but most clients are smarter than that. Most consultants know a lot about a certain subject and have the experience to back it up. That’s it, and that’s OK. I’ll tell you why later in the post.

There are two books I’m reading right now that are very thought provoking and have me thinking of the consulting profession in new ways. First is The Innovation Killer by Cynthia Barton Rabe. The other is The Dip by Seth Goden.

Here’s how these books apply back to this report:

In The Innovation Killer, the concept of the Zero Gravity Thinker is discussed. I talked about it in a recent post on this blog. Essentially, the Zero Gravity Thinker is much like a consultant. He or she is an outside person with related knowledge and experience to a problem that comes in and helps spur innovation, or solve a specific problem. What the Zero Gravity Thinker provides is a different perspective. They don’t bring the innovative solution to the table. They help the rest of the team look at the problem in a different perspective. By looking at it from a different perspective, solutions emerge – sometimes innovative solutions.

So, ask yourself this question:

If it weren’t for the management consultants, would any of the businesses in the study have been able to break through the “status quo” that was keeping them grounded and from making a breakthrough? Maybe not as quickly. Maybe not at all.

As for the other book I am reading, Seth Godin’s The Dip, people have this misconception about consultants and their status. In order for them to be successful, they must be the best in the world - an expert above all others. Why else would a company hire a consultant if he or she wasn’t the best I the world?

Truth be told, “the world” can be an ambiguous term. Godin defined “the world” for most people the best, or number one, in their immediate access at a given time. That’s it. The world is not the entire world or universe we reside in. It’s what’s in front of us at a given time.

Just remember this if you feel like you are struggling in your consulting businesses. You don’t have to be the best in the world. You don’t have to be groundbreaking or innovative. You just have to be a Zero Gravity Thinker to the people you serve. Meet their needs. Be an agent of change. Be easily accessible. Demonstrate your knowledge and skills to show that you are the best or number one – in their world.

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