How to avoid dependency when engaging a consultant


Recently I received an email from Ernie, a friend who is the CEO of a mid-sized cause-based organisation in regional Australia. Ernie was down in the dumps and complained that his organisation was suffering a severe case of the CD’s. What he was on about was Consultancy Dependency a fairly common affliction in the sector, and I am sure you will recognise some of the symptoms:

  • You or your board can’t make a decision without running it past  “the consultant” first.
  • The only one who knows how to run or support a system or activity is the consultant who installed it.
  • The consultant knows more about your operations than any of your staff.
  • The consultant has become part of the organisational furniture.  But they are not on your payroll nor are they a volunteer – they just keep invoicing on a monthly basis.

A familiar story? So how does this situation arise and what to do about it?

To find solutions we must first understand why this situation happens – lets start with the consultants themselves.

What do you think is at the forefront of a consultant’s mind when working for your organisation? Doing the best job they possible can for your organisation? – Yes…Keeping you, the client, satisfied? – Yes…They may also have a particular affinity with your cause! – Great.   But transcending these is the constant need to …..keep invoicing.

This all may seem a touch harsh on the poor humble consultant but the simple fact is that, for many, much of their waking time is spent  worrying about the next gig.  Typically consulting engagements are short term. They are brought in to do a specific task, or to help out on a  project. So the life of a consultant is that of constantly looking for your next assignment. Therefore by finding ways to support revenue, you put off this search as long as possible. And what is an effective way of achieving this?? Surprise, surprise, creating dependency! The more you depend on a consultant the longer they can keep invoicing.

There are many ways consultants can create dependency, but the main ones are:

  • Creating and implementing overly complex solutions to a problem that only they or their colleagues can  service.
  • Portraying themselves as such fonts of all wisdom and knowledge that the organisation couldn’t possibly live without them.
  • Conveniently losing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle by keeping nuggets of key information to themselves.
  • Exploiting the gullibility of clients … I could go on.

How to avoid dependency

In discussing how the CD’s can be avoided, can I first point out that usually dependency just doesn’t happen…clients let it happen. Certainly I am not suggesting it is intentional but a dependency creating consultant is aided and abetted by a stretched manager who needs a quick fix to a major problem that is distracting her/him from the 50 million other issues in their inbox at the time. So what can be done? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Have a clear start and finish date for the assignment.(I continue to be amazed how often this doesn’t happen)
  2. Agree to a fixed price. Do all you can to avoid an hourly rate scenario.
  3. Demand simplicity. If it is easy to use, it should be easy to maintain and cheap to fix if it breaks down.
  4. Avoid gold plating. Have the narrowest of scopes possible. You want a solution to the problem at hand nothing more at the moment thanks.
  5. Have a process of supervising the consultant. You don’t have staff who are unsupervised.  Why allow someone who is probably being paid more than most of your staff members to do their own thing unchecked.
  6. Make sure the consultancy engagement results in a positive knowledge transfer and is an empowering experience. Good consultants add to the organisation’s capacity to deliver its cause once they leave.

The moral of the story is that a  good consultant is a real asset to the organisation. They can offer cutting-edge knowledge and experience that may not be available internally. However, you have a responsibility to manage this asset prudently and your organisation and, in turn, its cause can benefit greatly.

Author: Chris Gandy, Director, Cause and Effective. Chris has extensive experience both in hiring and being a consultant. Cause and Effective provides consultants to the cause-based sector and its service approach has been designed specifically to address the issue  of dependency.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

2 Responses

  1. pete h

    Hi Cause and Effective – this is such a cliche – real issues develop when the inital consultant moves on, and is replaced by another – and the cycle of CD begins with costly analysis, etc etc. “Here here!” to the effective consultant leaving an org smarter than they found it.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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