Friday, December 01, 2006

The Consultant Biz

One of the more interesting things about being a management consultant is when you tell people at cocktail parties what you do and they get a strange expression. This can mean:

(a) That's pretty vague. Tell me more.
(b) Isn't that code language for "Between jobs?"
(c) You're one of those weasels that management brings in to conduct lay-offs.
(d) Oh, an overpaid, mumbo-jumbo artist.

[The answer, of course, is d.]

The reason for this lack of clarity is most children know what doctors, dentists, and lawyers do, but consultants are not well-defined. The term itself takes in a lot of territory and it has been diluted by proliferation. Department stores now have cosmetics consultants and decorating consultants. Who's to quarrel with their titles?

What I will note is that just as Southwest Airlines sells freedom and Disneyland sells fun, consultants sell improvement. It may be individual improvement in which a person is coached or trained on how to be a better manager or it may be organizational where harmful practices are identified and better ones implemented, but the ultimate outcome must be improvement or else the consultant has failed.

Organizations have been the gatekeepers in the relationship between individuals and consultants, but I predict that in the near future that barrier will be removed. More and more individuals will discover that having a management or career coach can provide a decided edge over the competition.

When that day arrives, the answer to that cocktail party question of "What do you do?" won't be quite as perplexing.

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