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Consultants are only as good as the advice you take.

                At one time or another, most all businesses use consultants to fill the gaps in knowledge or to provide guidance for management.  Consultants are good in that you can sample their work with short projects, change to other consultants quickly, and stop using them when a project is completed.

                I have a partner in a consulting practice that specializes in the travel industry.  Several years ago, we were hired by one of the largest companies in the industry (yet another Fortune 500) to perform a top-to-bottom audit of their processes across 27 facilities, and recommend measures to increase efficiency, increase income and of course, decrease costs while also increasing the quality of service.  We were quite confident that our services would yield great, measurable results.  The work continued for about eight weeks between the two of us as we visited the 27 locations and worked with employees in departments across all disciplines within each location and at central offices that performed services for all locations.

                Finally, at the end of the project, we had identified nineteen specific issues, each of which would, if implemented, accomplish one or more of the goals outlined at the start of the project. The sum of the savings and increases in revenue were worth multi-millions annually, well worth the implementation of most or all of the recommendations.

[Email readers continue here…] On the final day of our assignment, I was responsible for the “reporting out” to the assembled twenty or so executives in the large conference room of this major corporation.  I started my presentation, which had been carefully documented in handouts and PowerPoint, with this story… 

“I want you to all imagine that it is tomorrow morning, looking back upon today’s reporting of these past months of work by your consultants.  Imagine that today I build for you a beautiful sand castle exactly at the water line of the ocean nearby.  Tomorrow, we both will visit that beach and look at the water line, and find not a beautiful castle, but just smooth sand, just as it had been the day before building our beautiful sand castle.  In other words, I would not be surprised if you accept our report today with enthusiasm, but then in the overwhelming rush of daily business, fail to implement few if any of these recommendations that you so enthusiastically received.” 

                 The story is true and the results were as I predicted.  A few of the recommendations were implemented over time, one with great effect and even a national advertising campaign behind it (that you surely saw on TV).  But most were just ignored.  I imagine that our report sits today on someone’s shelf, filed with others from past and from following months and years. 

                Unfortunately, it is human nature to enthusiastically ignore to act upon recommendations of third party consultants. There are many, many exceptions, but far more instances of this in the business world.  Not all consultants give advice worth taking, of course. But when they do so, it is only as good as that which you implement.

  • Jon Stapp

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you for sharing this story and insight. As a consultant, I have seen so many recommendations get passed off as temporary or just plain ignored. What has happened recently too is that we have worked at a client for a couple of months and have not come up with any big recommendations. So now the client looks at us like we have not been doing our job (internal controls assignment). Funny how this works.

    And thank you for keeping up with these great reads each week. I am always pleased to see the notes in my mailbox and I read them a few times throughout the day.


  • Rick Munson

    Dave, very well said and a perfect analogy.

    I have been on the beach many times with my three sons and we have built sand castles together. Many times we have come back the next day, or sometimes the next hour, to see “the smooth sand of the beach” and our castle has disappeared. Bottom line, change is tough for executives, employees and kids. Sometimes it is easier to ignore the “sea of change” and let it wash over our work…and life continues with no change. Sometimes this is the best course…doing nothing, but enjoying the fact that we built a sand castle…and learned from the experience!

    I have also watched my three sons take another course on the “beach of life”. We worked hard as a team to build a beautiful sand castle with tall towers. After completion, we gather around the castle, and make the choice to “jump in the middle of castle” and knock it down. The big decision, with the choice being made to knock it down, is who gets to go first? With this choice, we have fast action, big change in short time, and some fun. We created, changed, and moved on with life.

    Thank you for “taking me to the beach with my boys” and teaching me a lesson at the same time,

    Rick Munson

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