Consulting Assignments Often Have Concealed Objectives.
If you’re new to consulting, don’t be surprised if some assignments turn out to have hidden agendas.
You sign on to tackle one set of problems only to find that they are symptomatic of the real (and often much bigger) problem. When this happens – and it often does – you will be faced with going back to the well and re-writing the rules of engagement. Here’s where your tact and skill at negotiating (often something of a hallucinatory ballet) will come in handy.
Finding The Real Problem Is Not Unlike a Scavenger Hunt!
In fact, based on over thirty years of high-level consulting, I can say with confidence that most clients either don’t understand their real problem or are reluctant to expose it openly. Whether it’s out of embarrassment or ego, managers will couch their explanation in terms that feel safe to them, not necessarily accurate. Oddly enough, the higher up the management ladder you go, the less likely your contact will be to have all the facts or even be aware of just how serious the problem really is.
Have you ever read the parody, “In The Beginning Was The Plan?” It is a classic description of how problems get reported on the line and how they change as they work their way up the chain of command. It’s absolutely hilarious, not so much because it is cleverly couched in biblical prose, but because it is oh, so true. You can read the piece on Inc. Magazine’s website.
Sometimes The Consultant’s Real Job Is To Expose The Elephant in the Room.
Yes, it’s often the case that you will be retained as the consultant to ferret out the actual problem – the real elephant in the room – that no one in the organization wants to “own” by being the bearer of bad news. And by the way, if this is your assignment (should you choose to accept it) you will be walking a fine line as you dig in. Don’t expect to be loved in the process.
Sometimes you will be expected to outline a solution in the form of bitter medicine – a solution that everyone knew all along. They just want the consultant to legitimize it and actually define it for all to see. Meeting expectations this way will challenge your writing skills, so be prepared for some creative prose in your report as well as in other deliverables, including your invoice.