Consultants are doing it for themselves

Published by Tony Quinlan on

Another great masterclass – and thanks to Rachel at Ark Group for moving us from the Lower Ground conference room to the 12th floor suite with these stunning views.


One fascinating conversation cropped up just before lunchtime as we reviewed Hertfordshire’s experiences of change and their use of external consultants to conduct an organisation-wide review.

Louise McKenzie, Head of HR at Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust, asked why it hadn’t  been done by staff – lack of expertise, resource, etc are the usual reasons.  The discussion came round to the possibilities of major reviews being used as development opportunities for staff – and the demoralising effect of bringing in external people when people can/want to do it themselves.

I found myself agreeing fully and wanting to go further.  But I needed to check that this wasn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to “management consultants”.

On reflection, I’ve still got objections to consultants coming in and doing much of the culture/knowledge work, and they’re around a number of issues.  The biggest ties in with a saying that informs knowledge management – I heard it from Dave Snowden first:

“I know more than I can tell and I can tell more than I can write down.”

The traditional consultancy model involves external consultants coming in, gathering information, making sense of it and then feeding it back to the organisation – often in the form of a written report.  Even if we assume that the report is read (the likelihood of which happening is in indirect proportion to the size and/or cost of the report), we know that the report is a fraction of what the consultant could tell which is in turn a fraction of what has been learned on the project.

So – consultants increase their knowledge and experience levels and client gets a fraction of that knowledge on a piece of paper.

There’s legitimacy to this approach if you really don’t have the resource to do it, but it’s a huge lost opportunity to learn.

It’s why we (ie Narrate) work in other ways – helping people within the organisation make sense of their own material, so their knowledge goes up, regardless of what written reports might be made.  And the decisions (hopefully) improve as a result of their greater knowledge and understanding, not just because they’ve got a heavy bundle of paper from a consultant.



Categories: Knowledge