Counting the cost of consultancy support
Before I start I feel I should make two important points :
1) If you’re expecting a serious, academic blog containing a reasoned argument backed up by empirical evidence, you’ve come to the wrong place;
2) I was asked to write 500 words, which I understand is what proper bloggers do. I’ve exceeded that ever so slightly so if you have a short attention span, you might want to leave now.
Assuming you’re still with me…
We’ve all heard the hilarious adage that a consultant steals your watch to tell you the time. Oh, how consultants laugh at that one. Disparaging as it is, there is a grain of truth in it, although I prefer “reveal” to “steal”. In any case, even if you favour “steal”, in my view it’s infinitely better than never bothering to look at your watch yourself so never actually knowing the time.
There are times when we all need someone to help us with something we find complicated or difficult or that, for whatever reason, we can’t do by ourselves. So we ask an “expert” to assist.
Not so clever Trevor
Anyone who’s ever had to find a tradesman will know what a potential minefield it is. On the other hand, anyone who’s had to put right the results of a keen but untalented Do-It-Yourselfer (see “A bumpy landing“), or who’s tried to save money by doing it themselves and failing miserably, will know that some things go much better with a bit of expert help.
Once upon a time, when I was younger and less worldly-wise, we needed some windows replaced at home. Enter Trevor (name unchanged so as not to protect the incompetent), selected via the ever-popular method of inviting three total strangers to quote, asking them to provide a reference, then choosing the cheapest one. Trevor was (allegedly) a joiner, one of whose (alleged) specialities was the manufacture of bespoke windows. I spoke to someone who had used him and they seemed happy with the results. And his quote was more competitive than others. So I appointed him to do the job.
Perhaps I should have spotted the warning signs when, shortly after starting work, on discovering a wasp’s nest, Trevor’s expert method of checking whether it was occupied was to hit it with a hammer. Thankfully it wasn’t.
To cut a long story (and a blog already lurching towards 500 words) short, things didn’t go well. Several of the windows were the wrong size; the hinges weren’t strong enough so buckled when the windows were opened; one window opened the wrong way; and there were so many gaps that most of the windows were as draughty as the old ones.
Trevor didn’t seem to see any of this as a major problem so we had a short discussion during which I helped him to understand. He took various bits of window away to do things to them, leaving us boarded up like a looted shop for several days, then returned for another go. They were better, but not much. We had another full and frank discussion, the result of which was that Trevor disappeared, never to be seen again, minus his final payment but, sadly, otherwise unscathed (if I ever see him again I may be tempted to administer an appropriate scathe!)
The whole sorry experience left me counting the cost of a poor job and the cost of putting it right.
And the point is?
“What’s all this got to do with business continuity consultancy?” I hear you ask, although the more enlightened will already have twigged, because there are actually several parallels.
1) Whilst asking for references prior to appointing your consultant (or tradesman) can be useful, it’s certainly not foolproof. Let’s face it, if you ask me to provide you with a reference site I’m not going to put you in touch with anyone who’ll say anything less than complimentary. Not that any of my clients would, I hasten to add. In hindsight, I should have found some other sources of information about the standard of Trevor’s work. Funnily enough, he hasn’t yet asked me to give him a reference, although I’d be delighted to talk to his prospective customers.
2) I never fail to be surprised by the number of organisations who select a consultant, not even on the basis of one recommendation, but on the basis of a tender response (usually to a tender written by someone who clearly has no clue about what’s actually required or who might be a suitable match for their organisation) without meeting, or even having any communication with the person they’ll be working with. I did actually meet Trevor before the assignment but only when he came to quote and I didn’t exactly give him the third degree. I’m older and wiser now.
3) You often get what you pay for. Cheap doesn’t always equal value for money. I remember when I started out as a consultant, some twenty-odd years ago, I went on a “how to be a consultant” course. There are two things from the course that I clearly remember, despite the fact that I usually can’t remember what I did last week. The first was the answer to the question “how can you justify a fee of x pounds for two days’ work?”, which was “because it’s two days plus x years’ experience”. Which I rather liked. See point 4 for the second.
4) Expertise in one area doesn’t guarantee expertise in another. I found out later that, although Trevor had been a joiner for years, he hadn’t actually made many windows. There are many, many business continuity consultants around. Some of them have huge expertise in specific areas, such as crisis management or IT recovery, but not necessarily in others. The second point I remember from the “how to be a consultant” course was the assertion of the tutor that it’s ok for a consultant to be just one or two pages ahead of the client in the “how to do xyz” manual. Which I definitely didn’t like and strongly disagree with.
5) I’m not bad at DIY so I could have had a go myself. But I suspect it would have taken significantly longer and the results wouldn’t have been much better than Trevor’s effort. At which point I’d probably have had to admit defeat and employ someone to do it properly.
Whatever your motive for working with a consultant, please think carefully about selecting one that’s right for you. And do at least meet them first.
And yes, hiring a consultant has a cost. Of course it does. But hiring the wrong one, or not hiring one at all, having a go yourself and getting it wrong can leave you counting the cost in other ways.
As the saying goes – caveat emptor. Which I believe is Latin for beware of Trevors.
Agree? Disagree? Want to share your own thoughts or opinions?
Leave a reply and let me know what you think.
Andy Osborne (known as Oz to friends and colleagues) is the Consultancy Director at Acumen, a consultancy practice specialising in business continuity and risk management.
Andy is the author of the books ‘Practical Business Continuity Management‘ and ‘Risk Management Simplified‘ as well as his popular blogs and ‘Tips of the Month’, all of which aim to demystify the subjects of business continuity and risk management and make them more accessible to people who live in the real world.
You can follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyatAcumen and link with him on LinkedIn at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/andyosborneatacumen