When I was studying for my Master’s, I came across a definition of a
management consultant as “Someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time. And then keeps the watch”.
This tongue-in-cheek assessment may be a little harsh on an industry
which conscientiously and consistently strives to improve business
efficiency, but it contains more than a kernel of truth – not least in
respect of a tendency to state what Basil Fawlty used to call “the
Management consultancy is not a science. It is an art. Even the renowned Boston Consultancy Group insisted that its world-famous BCG Matrix
(you know the one; Stars, Dogs, Cash Cows, Problem Children etc.)
should not be taken as an exhaustive model for product analysis, but
used as an aid where appropriate. Problems ensue when business owners can’t see the wood of their own expertise for the trees of consultancy advice, and allow the former to be compromised by the latter. A sort of inertia can set in when business theory is allowed to paralyse the not inconsiderable asset of ‘gut instinct’.
I do not say that management consultancy is without merit. It can, of
course, can be invaluable. I assert only that it should be used
sparingly and never considered infallible. It should be more scaffolding
than cornerstone; a refreshing cup of tea rather than an intravenous
drip; a suggestion box, not the Bible. Pardon my stream of
consciousness, but imagine a delayed Reformation as Martin Luther is
advised to put his 95 theses out to focus groups before even thinking
about nailing them to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral!
My counsel to decision-makers, be they the butchers,
bakers and candle-stick makers of SMEs or the CEOs of multi-national
companies, is that they process consultancy advice alongside, not above, other influences. Not least their own informed opinion. My guidance to management consultants would be twofold. Firstly, treat the knowledge and experience of your clients not as a threat to be countered but as a resource to be harvested. And secondly? Give that watch back!
Rory Mulvihill, LOS Consultant