Hooked on Consultants?

Get your habit under control with this 12-step program for dealing with consultants and avoiding extraneous fees.

A touring PGA golfer recently told me the way Tiger Woods has you over a barrel when you play against him. First, you know Tiger can beat you. Second, Tiger knows he can beat you. And finally, Tiger knows that you know he can beat you.


The same can be said of how leaders feel one down and also held over a barrel when it comes to hiring a consultant or consulting firm–especially a large one. In that case, because of the situation you’re stuck in, you know you can’t move forward without the help of an outside consultant. The consulting firm knows that you can’t move forward without their help. And finally, they also know that you know you need them.

This feeling of vulnerability may explain why so many leaders are hesitant to hire consultants. One leader told me how he sometimes feels that consultants sit perched over a company’s bared neck like “vultures” waiting for the opportunity to zoom in for the kill–to expose all the additional problem areas and additional fees they can collect to correct them. This leader confessed: “Oh, I know that I need help from a consultant, but I am more concerned what they’ll do to us than what they’ll do for us.”

One way to lessen your fear of runaway consultations is to have those ones you hire tell you not only what they will do for you, but also how they will do it. I have formulated that “how” into a 12-step program. These steps will help keep consultations on track and prevent them from racking up spiraling fees that the company can ill afford. These steps offer both consultants and the leaders who hire them a road map of how working together will proceed so that neither gets blindsided.

  • Step 1. Problem Definition What’s going on in a company? The consultant meets with the principle decision makers and key executives to find out about their biggest challenges and greatest opportunities, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they think needs to change to meet their challenges effectively and take advantage of their opportunities.
  • Step 2. Assessment of Goals What goals does the company want to reach? The consultant puts together the input from Step 1 and reaches a consensus about these goals with the principle decision makers.
  • Step 3. Available Approaches Consultations/actions are selected that are necessary to reach those goals, e.g. team building, strategic planning, business planning, financial planning, etc.?
  • Step 4. Strategic Planning of Consultation The order and sequence of different consultations/actions is established. Who is going to do what, when, and where is determined.
  • Step 5. Education and Involvement of Key Executives The consultant obtains a commitment to action from the main decision-makers.
  • Step 6. Education and Involvement of Relevant Staff The key executives and/or consultant obtains a commitment from the people who are going to do what is called for.
  • Step 7. Fine Tuning The consultant assists the company in adjusting and modifying approaches to fit the situation as it evolves.
  • Step 8. Does the Consultation Work? The consultant checks to see that the approach(es) is producing the desired results (i.e., moving the company towards agreed upon goal).
  • Step 9. Monitoring Mechanism The consultant determines a way to periodically measure and make changes to keep everything on course.
  • Step 10. Continuity The consultant assists the company to develop a program to keep the company continuing and following through with changes. There needs to be some kind of follow-up to ensure follow-through (turning changes into habits).
  • Step 11. Maintenance The consultant helps the company to develop a way to make changes part of corporate culture, so that the company is self-reliant.
  • Step 12. Disengagement The consultant helps the company to develop a way to know when the company is using changes on its own. An early warning system is developed for a company to know when problems are arising, to nip them in the bud.