A friend of mine, and a great management consultant, told me once that when he needs to grab the attention of underwhelmed executives confronted with a new set of ideas or a conceptual model of strategy or execution, he says ‘it comes from McKinsey’. ‘But you are cheating!’ –I said. ‘No, he said, I can link it with any McKinsey stuff’. So there you are; a series of bubbles and Venn diagrams in PowerPoint full of more or less standard content, which can be elevated to a biblical category by reference to the Highest Priesthood of management consulting.
I am sympathetic with my friend, although I don’t practice his trick. A top client told me once, ‘if the Board needs comfort, we’ll call McKinsey; if they need culture change, we’ll call you!’. Which seems to imply that McKinsey can’t provide cultural change and I can’t provide comfort. Mmm, I should be honoured with the quote since my organization is 0.02941176 % of McKinsey in terms of bodies.
External consultants are Traders of Ideas, Gangs of Executors, Merchants of Comfort or permutations. Brands are often comfort warehouses. ‘No One Ever Got Fired for Buying IBM’ was an 80’s slogan. The Board of Directors use of Very Big consulting firms is their insurance policy. I am not suggesting they would do a bad job, just stating a well known practice.
We can’t blame them for having a powerful brand but that does not necessarily ensure success. I have multiple times witnessed the calling of the Big Consulting Firms for purposes which were clearly outside the expertise of those firms. I have witnessed the disbelief of seasoned executives that are told to ‘use them’.
Comfort, knowledge/ideas and execution are different things. A good friend of mine is an excellent general practitioner. He makes people feel at ease and that makes his clinical judgment very credible. He is also a very bright professional. That helps. He has a physician as a partner in his medical Practice. Let’s call him Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith is also very bright and apparently he was top pf the class in medical school. In a mixture of humble attitude and typical British understatement, my friend used to say: ‘If you want to get better go to Dr. Smith; if you want to feel better, come to me’.
The same applies to management consulting.