Several years ago, I contacted an organization for financial counseling. The organization was one that I trusted and had done business with them in the past so I knew them, and they knew me (or so I thought).
The first financial counselor I spoke with told my wife and me that we needed to be riskier in our investments, be more bold and grow our nest egg as quickly as possible. I then asked the questions that caused this financial counselor to pause:
- Are you married?
- Do you have children?
- How old are your children?
- Are either of them in college?
- Do you live in a state that has a state tax?
- Do both of you work?
- Do YOU have risky investments?
I found out that this individual was married, the spouse worked, they had no kids (just animals) and they lived in a state that does NOT have a state tax. I asked that the next financial counselor study our file more closely and better match our life situation and experience.
Voila, the next financial counselor matched our life profile almost to a “T” and we talked for a while and this financial counselor stated that we were doing everything necessary to retire at the age we would like.
Why am I bringing this example in to an article talking about consulting? I am a consultant with experience in private industry, public service, military, and academia. As such, I have situations and knowledge of all these areas (granted some better than others). However, after being in government employment for over 30 years, I would be better matched to consult in a government environment than a Fortune 500 environment and would be more than willing to admit that to the client. However, I see Federal Government Agencies bring in private industry consultants to advise on management and other techniques. Although I am sure that is some rare occasions this works, I can attest from experience on the receiving end of these consults that they do not work. The main reasons are this:
- Many of the political appointees to Federal Government are from private industry and readily accept and use consultants’ recommendations, even if those recommendations do not fit the workforce
- Political appointees are now part of a government organization where the government employee has been part of the system (institution actually) for many years, sometimes decades. Trying to move these employees past what they know is like moving an aircraft carrier (it takes miles)
- Consultants cannot relate to the government employee unless they have been there (and I am not talking about government contractors that have never been government employees – they have never experienced what government employees experience unless they have been there)
- Many government employees will simply wait out the political appointee (after all, the government employee will be there longer in any case) for the next voting cycle to possibly force the appointee to move on and things will move back to where they were before the political appointee (much like a bucket of water after the hand that is moving the water is removed from the bucket)
How does the consulting company change? They really are not required to change. The government will continue to use their services, thinking that they are somehow improving their organization, when in fact they are sometimes spending money for generalized recommendations that do not value-add to the organization, because the consulting company cannot in any way relate to the client, so they go into their tool kit and present generalized recommendations. Do not believe me? When you had your last consulting experience, how many recommendations related to communications? This is one of the areas where NO company will perform in an outstanding manner, so it can always be improved, hence the recommendation. Another topic for another article.
What I am saying is that the client/customer must change their ways and outline a series of requirements (questions) that they give to the company. For example, let’s say you are government agency looking for a consult on a project/program management office (PMO) and need some advice from an outside consulting company. The following questions would help to gauge the fitness of the consulting company for your purposes.
- How many of your employees are former government employees (not former government contractors)?
- How many of these employees possess project/program management experience (including any government project management/program management certifications)?
- What agencies employed these former government employees? (This helps to understand their shared experience – if they worked for very small agencies and never for a large one, this might be something you want to consider)
- How much do you understand the FARs? (You do not have to expand this abbreviation. Wait for the consulting company to ask which one.)
- What are the demographics of your company? What are the demographics of your former government workers? (This will help in determining those from different age groups, which can help the overall consulting experience.)
- Will your recommendations use specific instances, examples, and situations so that the client can make any necessary changes to their existing processes? If yes, please present any other reports to show your capabilities and experience in this area.
I am not saying these are the only questions, but these will help to tune the experience to be more beneficial for both the client and the consultant. Of course, this article will not change any consulting processes without the client changing their methods of selecting consultants. If the client looks more to their requirements and not their (possibly preconceived) results, the entire process would be forced to change. Until that time happens, most of the the consulting business will give more of the same — generic recommendations for generic results.
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