The Problem with Consultants…

James Edsberg


Gulland Padfield

Why do consultants fail to deliver, and what practical steps can you take to get the most out them? James Edsberg offers some insights from a recent Lighthouse Global study, conducted with Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
Business consultants are the whipping boys of the corporate world and the butt of many jokes. Why does this caricature persist? Is it fair? Are consultants getting better or worse at meeting the expectations of their clients? And what can clients and consultants do to make this relationship more successful?
The results of our study, conducted with executives from FTSE–350 companies, reveal learnings for all types of external consultants in strategy, IT, change management, human resources and public relations. But for research projects in particular, the findings are particularly clear: it is consultants’ soft skills that usually let them down, not the quality of their analysis.
In this respect, research consultants have a particularly high potential to delight or disappoint. By its nature, research is a voyage into the unknown. That is why the need to communicate throughout the project, to focus research objectives on the business decisions they inform, and to build support for the implications, are vital to success.
Not all bad news
Britain’s leading companies value their consultants for four things: expertise; fresh ideas; an independent viewpoint; and providing an industry-wide perspective. In the words of one, consultants “provide what often gets ignored by a business that is focused on day-today operational challenges”. And, in general, they seem to be keeping their clients broadly happy. But the majority of executives say that there has been no improvement in consultants’ abilities to get consistent and lasting results. “Consultants are strong on analysis but weak when it comes to solving the problem” was a comment that reflected many. “We already know what the problem is most of the time, but we need them to focus on solving it”, said another.
To read the full article, please download the PDF above. 

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