The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

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So, do you really want to know what your consultant thinks?

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As we all know, many consultants are simply “yes men.”  They tell you exactly what you either want to hear, or already know.  In many cases, there is really nothing wrong with this.  They tell you what you already know simply because it is the general truth.  Consultants often go through many hours of interviews and surveys to find out what you already know intuitively based on our experience.  It makes perfect sense that they will usually validate what you have already discovered through years of working within the organization.  However, to gain credibility, you often need an “outside expert” opinion.  In many cases, you either hired the consultant because you didn’t have the expertise or the bandwidth internally, or you simply needed the external validation.  This is ok.

The problems creep in when the consultant does not do their discovery appropriately.  They interview who you tell them to interview, and don’t go outside your boundaries with interviewing the people they want to talk to.  They don’t do adequate survey work and work within narrow scopes which don’t allow them to find out what is going on “beneath the covers.”  When all this happen, they simply become “yes men.”  Rather than having a consultant that is telling you the truth of the mater, they are telling you what you want to hear.  This is not because you have demanded this from the consultant, but because you have possibly steered the consultant to sources who are biased to agree with you.  A consultants findings will then also be biased based on how you created their scope of work and directed their project.

But this is just the surface of the problem.  This is not a question about whether your consultant is telling you the truth.  This is a question about you not wanting the truth.  I’ve been in more than enough situation where the consultant is really telling the client to do something quite different than the path the client is currently on.  I’ve had these experiences during projects when clients professed to what the truth and guidance.  But when it comes down to it, senior HR leaders often have an interest or their consultants to say that the course they have been on for years was indeed not a waste of time.  They would like to hear that the money they have spent was spent with some form of reflection.  And when a consultant reveals that your organization is in samples with no direction or infrastructure, you rebel.

Now, I’m fairly politically savvy I think, and I don’t lay things out harshly.  I’m a pretty darn good consultant and generally can sway a client to my explanation and point of view.  But there are certain times that I realize my clients didn’t actually want my version of the truth.  All I can really say is that if you are going to spend thousands of dollars (often hundreds of thousands) then you should really keep an open mind.  You hire consultants for a number of reasons.  Among these should be the fact that they do indeed have much more market and industry exposure than the average practitioner.  Some consultants have a point of view that should be tempered, but some clients have a point of view that needs to be challenged.

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