Consultant, Contractor, Temp: All the Same, Right? – Part 1

Someone once told me that I’m a person obsessed with definitions and it’s true: I am. I think defining what is, or isn’t, is always the first step. Even if a definition is unclear or incomplete, it’s a starting point. Why? Because if you don’t know what you’re working with, in some shape, form, or fashion, how are going to even divine what to do with it or what to do next?

Today, I specifically want to talk about definitions as it comes to three resource types: consultant, contractor, and temp. This is my attempt to put some structure around it because I have found over the years that:

  1. We often misuse or blur the lines (and this is not to say that in reality lines can’t be blurred)
  2. The misuse or blurring sometimes creates more trouble, or confusion, than necessary

Let’s start with my personal favorite: management consultants.

A rose by any other name
Remember the title of that rather popular book? Ah, yes, “House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time”. I recommend you read it – I won’t get into the merits of it here – but consultants are, but definition, expensive, likely to tell you something you (or someone in your firm) already knew and may have already recommended/kvetched about/tried to change. Sure, they may put it in a prettier slide deck, and for their price they have the ear of senior management, but if you’re taking advantage of them the right way, they are here today and gone tomorrow (or six weeks later).

But, what does that really mean when it comes to the day-to-day interactions and functions of a consultant at your company when they are on “an engagement?”

  1. They are not a part of your BAU (business-as-usual) process. If your consultant is involved in your BAU activities and/or functions, something isn’t right.
  2. They have a firm statement of work: dates, deliverables, and clawbacks/penalties for not meeting those dates and/or deliverables. This is decided before they come onboard, not after. (Very important)!
  3. You can live without them. They may be an advisor; you may have a group in every couple of months; you may pay them in ducats and Krugerrands; but ultimately, you can live without them. If they have become so essential to your working day, and you can’t…

You’re not doing right
You need to manage your management consultants. You can even manage them before they even get there! Either way, some essentials:

  1. Decide exactly what they are there for.
  2. Shape and size the deliverables (strategy analysis, operating model ,valuation, etc.,) properly. Be specific and concrete!
  3. Allocate both space and time for them to work. If possible, have a project manager on your side who manages the interview schedules, provides access to documents, equipment, office space, and all of that jazz.
  4. Kick them out when the job is done (or bribe away the ones you want for your in-house consultancy).
  5. Or, hire them on for another step with clear, clean deliverables – that’s right, a fresh and new statement of work! – if you liked what they did for you the first time around.

If you are skipping one of the above steps, you’re not doing it right. If they are just hanging out billing you hours, you’re not doing it right. If you don’t have a calendar you both are marching towards together, you’re not doing it right. If you can’t put/get a status on them each week, wait for it—

You’re not doing it right!

Getting the best out of them
That said, management consultants do serve a purpose. The main reason you hire them is not that your internal folks aren’t smart enough to come to the same concluscions; it’s that they don’t have the time.

Consultants are not there to run your business for you; they are there to step back and give you recommendations, shine a light in one of those “dark places.” They are there to give you ‘insight’ into what your competitors/peers are doing; they are there to give you an ‘academic view’ of your business and processes. They are there to give you ideas for which your people, you know, the internal ones you pay day-in/day-out and therefore they know your business inside and out, to implement.

If that is the need you have, if that is what you want, hire a team of management consultants and let them loose on a short leash (ha!) to do just that. If you want someone who sticks around though, but you’re not quite sure you want to hire them on a “permanent” basis, then…

Let’s talk about contractors.


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