“Oh, so you’re like the Bobs?” This is typically the first thing you hear from someone once you’ve told them you’re a consultant. Because even 18 years after “Office Space” debuted, that’s still the most culturally relevant image people have of consultants. And it’s a view that is often reinforced by actual real-life consultants, who approach their projects much like the Bobs would.
Never having previously worked at a consultancy, nor it being something that was even on my radar, I had a similar view as everyone else. So, when I was offered a position at Thought Ensemble, a boutique management consulting services company, I was imagining working at a metaphorical Bob factory. But after almost six years at the company (which I think is worth noting – longer than I’ve worked at any other single company), I’m here to bust some myths about consultants.
Myth #1: Consultants Don’t Work with You, They Work on You
People typically imagine consultants coming into their office, saying a quick hello, and then heading directly into a windowless room, closing the door, and working by themselves until they’ve come up with a well-intentioned, but misinformed, set of cookie cutter recommendations. A set of cookie cutter recommendations that often end up on a dusty bookshelf somewhere because they weren’t actionable and because nobody bothered to get the team bought in on them.
The reason people often imagine consultants this way is because many consultants actually ARE this way. But if you want your recommendations and plans to be impactful, then people need to feel like the plan is theirs not just the work of some outside consultant that dumped it on them.
I’ve loved working at Thought Ensemble because we always work hand-in-hand with our clients. We do this, not only because they need to be bought in, but also because they are curators of invaluable company expertise – expertise that is crucial when designing a solution that you want to see succeed.
Myth #2: Consultants Are Only Necessary If Your Org is Incapable
A lot of people believe consultants are only necessary when you are short staffed, lack expertise, or don’t have the right organization set up in-house. I mean, if you have a solid team why would you need a consultant to help you? In many cases that’s true. There are plenty of projects and practices that can be performed better in-house, and if you were to approach us to try and help you with those types of projects we’d tell you that. But there are also plenty of projects, from the simple to the complex, that can benefit from an objective, multi-industry, multi-disciplinary view.
Even if a project seems commonsense it’s important to remember that commonsense isn’t always common practice, so having an experienced 3rd party to help setup and guide those practices allows you and your team to focus on ongoing operations or other important initiatives.
And every project can benefit from an objective view. Your in-house people have some great insight and expertise, but they can also have their own personal or career agendas.
To top that off, our Ensemble is filled with people who have experience across a multitude of industries and disciplines, meaning we offer a deeper and broader pool of ideas to draw from than those who only have experience in a specific field.
Myth #3: Consultants Push Their Own Agendas
Most consulting firms have commission structures tied to sales. Sell a big project, get a big commission. And if commissions exist, it’s hard for them to not be a motivator, or a silent partner, in the decisions a consultant makes. How can you trust that a consultant is giving you advice and guidance that is in your best interest if you know that certain recommendations they make will inevitably lead to a nice green lining in their pockets?
This is one of my favorite things about Thought Ensemble: there are no commissions. If you make a big sale, your paycheck stays the same. Which means we can focus on our clients and what’s best for them instead of what would most help us fulfill our dreams of buying a boat we’ll never use. It also means that internally we can truly work together as an “Ensemble” because we aren’t competing against each other for slices of the pie. As a result, we encourage our clients to reach out to any one of us (not just their project lead) if they have questions or want someone to bounce ideas off, and internally we are always getting ideas, insight, expertise, and feedback from each other anyway because there are no barriers to us working together when it means we are helping our clients.
On top of commissions, many consultancies also have their own software or tools they want to sell, or they work with other providers who they receive kickbacks from when they get you to sign on. Having a genuinely objective 3rd party helps ensure that you get to the right answer for your organization and not for someone else’s agenda. I like that at Thought Ensemble, we aren’t required to push particular products or ideas, so we can give the answer that genuinely works best for our clients.
So, after nearly six years at Thought Ensemble, I can safely say that everything I’ve heard, or thought, about consulting companies has been turned on its head. I still occasionally hear horror stories about other consulting firms, but I feel very lucky to be able to say that I don’t work at one of those!