Project Practitioners > Managing With Consultants

Managing With Consultants

By Ed Reynolds

If you have been managing for more than a few years, you have been in the situation where you needed some outside help to complete a project. Sometimes you request the help yourself but sometimes your management supplies the help without asking you - how uncomfortable is that? That can create the perception with the consultant that they are there to clean up your mess and they show up with “the attitude.” If you value your team, check with them before you hire consultants to help them and make sure consultants know where they fit in the organization.

I knew a young woman, Elaine, who had rapidly worked her way up in a small company. Like all small companies, they supplemented permanent staff with consultants to tackle bigger projects. They brought in Kathy to assist with a training program that Elaine was working on. Kathy had industry experience and excellent presentation skills but lacked organization, an eye for detail, and a strong work ethic. Elaine ended up doing the lion’s share of the work, developing new concepts for the customers, pulling together and polishing Kathy’s presentation, as well as handling all the logistics associated with conducting the customer training. Kathy took credit for all the work and treated Elaine like her personal assistant. Elaine was livid with the situation and felt undervalued by her company. She asked to be removed from the account.

I worked for a large computer OEM that supplemented a lot of strategy work with consultants. On a particularly large assignment, the company “helped me out” by adding a consultant to the job. Brett asked me for a lot of information almost daily. Usually cooperative, I helped him find the data or the people that had it whenever I could. Helping him do his job began to take more of my time than my own work. I told him he needed to use the research resources of his own [large] firm. He escalated to my boss, who took his side and insisted I spend as much time as necessary with Brett. I fell significantly behind in my own work and wondered who was reporting to whom on this project….well, actually, I wasn’t wondering anymore; my boss has made that clear.

Consultants should be used to supplement permanent labor. Their purpose is to help you do something your team wasn’t designed to do (e.g., help define a new strategy or work processes) or to help your team complete a large task (e.g., bringing best practices/skills acquired on other jobs to speed up the time to success). When they get in the way of your regular employees or make them feel undervalued, their contribution is cancelled out by the ill will created.

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