Are Consultants Worth Their Pay? — Are there genuine experts that provide value?


The Management MythThe title is quite catchy — How To Become a Management Guru in Five Easy Steps: You Too Can Be Just Like Tom Peters and Peter Drucker.

This is the latest article from Slate.com’s The Big Money, written by Matthew Stewart, and is actually an excerpt from his new book: The Management Myth: Why the “Experts” Keep Getting it Wrong (Yes, there is a chance it will be a future selection for the First Friday Book Synopsis).

The author builds on a growing theme: a lot of books that tell us “This is how it is done” turn out to be not so reliable. The “great” companies, the “excellent” companies, do not always stay great and excellent. And the consultants, the gurus, may not actually provide the magic path to success so desired by others.

Stewart begins this excerpt with a fascinating parallel – the growth of American religion(s) in the decades following the birth of our country. He delineates a clear formula that the preachers followed in building their new followings. And then he lays out a similar formula followed by modern day business gurus (Tom Peters is exhibit A). Here’s the formula:

1. We are all going to die!
2. The bureaucracy is killing us!
3. There is good news in America!
4. “You have the power!”
5. Just look at me!

I personally would put Peter Drucker above this formulaic construction – he was too deep and thoughtful a man to lump in with anybody else. But I think the formula is pretty accurate, and in reality, it is based on other formulas of the past.

Consider insights learned about persuasion. Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (Alan Monroe: from the 1930’s) proposed five steps to follow in all attempts at persuasion:

Monroe’s Motivation Sequence:

1. Attention: Hey! Listen to me, I have a PROBLEM!
2. Need: Let me EXPLAIN the problem.
3. Satisfy: But, I have a SOLUTION!
4. Visualization: If we IMPLEMENT my solution, this is what will happen.
5. Action: You can help me in this specific way. Are YOU willing to help me?

Lay this next to the management formula proposed and you see the parallels.

Attention: We are all going to die.
Need: The bureaucracy is killing us!
Satisfy: There is good news in America!
Visualization: “You have the power!”

When you put this all together, it boils down to the ancient and still valuable two part approach:

#1 — What is the problem?
#2 — What is the solution?

Any consultant who can answer both of these questions well can be invaluable to a client. Any consultant who can answer question number 1 is still plenty valuable. But any consultant who tries to answer question number 2 without understanding question number 1 is practically worthless.

In the Stewart article, he takes a pretty jaded view of the value of consultants. Here are the last two paragraphs of the article:

As Peters understands, however, the authority of the guru does not stem from knowledge, degrees, or experience. It has its foundation in a personal narrative. The guru’s story is one of triumph over adversity. It is his own passage through the dark night of the bureaucratic soul and his subsequent redemption and ascension into consulting heaven that cement his bond with his audience. His listeners need to know that he has suffered as they have, that he has witnessed the madness firsthand, that they’re not crazy—it’s just that the world has gone nuts. His own rise from the boiler room of a Navy warship to the commanding heights of the guru economy offers hope to us all.

“We are the only society in the world that believes it can keep on getting better and better,” says Peters, in one of his postmodern, self-referential moments. “So we keep on getting suckered in by people like Ben Franklin and Emerson and me.” One could debate whether the author of The Pursuit of WOW! overreaches by putting himself in the same sentence with such luminaries, but he is surely correct to point out that there is something very American in the manic spirituality that he and his fellow gurus promote.

This is a pretty cynical view. And the evidence may prove such cynicism to be correct. (I’m looking forward to reading the book). But I still think this: clarity about the problem, and some direction toward a genuine solution, whether from a consultant or some other source, can make a really, really big difference.

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