If you have worked in a big company -- you can almost smell it in the air. The big boss has some thorny problem or is afraid to actually make an important decision. And rather than digging in and getting bold -- here come the consultants. They stroll right on in as if your cube is their house, and they are instantly scheduling clear-your-calendar-and-get-there meetings with you. They are in your business. Literally, they are.
And they are really hard to get rid of when they show up. Because the situation is always worse than what they thought coming in. And surely a change order is needed to cover the additional work.
Now, don't get me wrong. There are some great tasks to outsource, or there are other times when you really need an extra pair of deft hands. But have we gone too far? How can a consultant ever understand your business better than you do?
This is nothing new. There have been consultants as long as there have been businesses.
I am just pointing out what most of us have experienced, and questioning why so many executives get paid the big bucks to hire others to make strategic decisions.
Sure, consultants can bring their expertise and pattern recognition to each company they serve. But more often than not, it's corporate dysfunction that allows them to walk through the door.
They are hired to help make strategic decisions because it's safer that way. They provide an "objective" point of view and give any smart executive someone to blame when things go sideways. These are the hidden reasons consultants are really hired. It's not always the case, but I have seen these undercurrents nearly every time.
The problem is that when you hire others to do the hard thinking for you, you are handing off more than you might think. You may not realize it, but you are not benefiting from the burdens that you must carry.
You get better by getting challenged, not by sitting on the sidelines while others contend with your work.
When you outsource your brain to consultants, here is what else you are losing:
You lose accountability: When you bring on consultants to do the heavy lifting for you, they are no longer your ideas. And as I have pointed out, often that's the purpose. But if that is not the case, even the ideas that work are not your ideas and you do not feel accountable to them. Their goals are not the same as yours and you will not pursue them with the same vigor.
You lose discipline: You may think that a consultant will make you a sharper decision-maker, but the opposite is true. Farming out your thinking to others will make you lazy. The next time a problem arises, your go-to solution will be to hire another consultant. You are training yourself to take the easy way out. Problem-solving is a discipline that must be exercised often if you want to keep your edge.
You lose confidence: Setting goals and knocking them out builds you and your team's self-assurance. But if someone else is doing your thinking for you, you will start to question your abilities. After a time, you will forget how you successfully solved hard problems in the past -- before the consultant ever came into the picture.
You lose control: Your team needs to know who is in charge. But when you bring in a consultant who has a different style of approaching problems, they will only see the nicely packaged end result -- not your usual messy but brilliant decision-making process. Your team may begin to wonder who is leading: you, or the consultant? Even worse, you may lose their trust when they see you no longer trust yourself.
You lose the reward: The process of thinking through problems through is hard work, and there is no way of getting around it. Sometimes the answers will not fall neatly into place and you need to exercise patience with the process and with yourself. But when you outsource your brain to consultants, you miss out on the struggle and the beautiful solution that can result from it.
When you use consultants to do the hard thinking for you, you lose your brain and you lose your way.
If you are taking on more and more responsibility, remember why. It's unlikely that it's because you sidestep the challenges that matter most to the business. Do not be tempted to outsource your brain to someone else. It will be hard to ever get it or your business back on track.
Has your company ever hired consultants to make key decisions?