I get approached by consultants who want to expand their business. They have been profitably (most often) supporting a small staff for some years. But the ‘bigger’ bug has been whispering in the principal’s ear for some time.
I believe it was Nietzsche who observed, in criticism of western philosophers, that although they built castles in the air they tended to live in the tool shed on the ground. My first step – even before I engage to help – is to seek the answer to the question suggested by Nietzsche. Are the consultants living a life that avoids their own wisdom? Many of these consultants are providing advice to a range of clients on how to grow their businesses. The often have organized programs that focus on how to expand – how to scale – how to move from a sole proprietorship to a ‘real company’. Whether it is focused on organizational development, team building, business development or any of a wide range of essential areas, they offer advice designed to support the growth of a company – its expansion – on how to establish a pattern of growth.
The core question is “how good are these consultants at taking their own advice”. “Physician heal thyself!” I have found that asking this question divides the profession into two broad groups. There is the “do as I say, not as I do” crowd. Or, more properly, “do as I say but I’m not going to do as I say”. They are long on advice and short on taking it as their own. They develop plans to expand their clients’ businesses but don’t see those plans as relevant to their own expansion efforts.
The second group has a tendency to take their accumulated wisdom and professional advice seriously. They develop and implement a plan that looks a lot like those developed and implemented by their clients. But that may not be the panacea that it seems. What is interesting is the parallel results between their efforts and the results achieved by their clients. Here is the test of how good they really are. (This may be a reason that the first group avoids taking their own advice – a suspicion of “inadequacy”?) Consultants who have real value to add tend to have clients that are benefiting from that advice. Their businesses grow. They prosper. Such consultants also tend to be sucessful in their efforts to expand from a small consulting company to a larger one. Consultants who add little residual value tend to have clients who are either stagnating or declining. Those consultants tend to remain small operations.
So what is the consultant’s disease? It is the inability to learn for yourself and implement effectively the lessons what you are expecting your clients to learn. It is to see the world through a perspective that exempts you and your organization from the realities that you insistently suggest others face. And it is the tendency to overlook the correlation between the high value you put on your experience and advice and the results being achieved by your clients.
I have worked with consultants who have build very large organizations. They seemed to have done it relatively effortlessly. I have also worked with consultant who have spent frustrating years trying to find the formula that will allow them to do the same. My conclusion is that recovery from the consultant’s disease must come first.