Seven Deadly Sins of Consultancy


Consultants take a cookie cutter approach to providing consulting services, assuming that the same solution will work with all clients. The truth is, while the same framework or way of thinking may work in a large majority of cases, the detailed environment is often quite different. The symptoms may be similar, but the cause and the detailed prescription necessary to cure the symptoms is different.

This is particularly so when it comes to creating and executing effective communications to inform an organisation and change individual people’s behaviour. For example, consultants recommend the same communication techniques with different organisations, even though the culture and education level is different and affects the preferences people have for communication channels and style.


Consultants refuse to see what is in front of them, opting for a theoretical rather than pragmatic approach.

Too often, consultants opt for the purist rather than pragmatic view of solving an issue. Too often, consultants adopt an advisory approach which, while theoretically correct, does not take into account the budgetary, cultural or political realities. They try to convince people of their righteousness rather than work with what is possible.

In change management particularly, we find, for example, the advocates of the <insert number here> step process that starts with a “senior leadership endorsement” or such other phrase when a large majority of change does not start at the senior management level and endorsement only comes after some results are demonstrated.

The theory is fine and senior management endorsement, beyond budget and into their hearts and minds, is necessary, but it rarely comes as step one. Pursuing the puritanical route in this example is a recipe for failure rather than success.


Consultants have learned from theory rather than from their mistakes. This we find, with both external consultants and internal consultants.

With external consultants, the problem is more about sending in inexperienced consultants. Or if they are brought in by internal project managers or senior managers to populate a project team, it is usually a sign that the managers involved can neither specify the behaviour skills and knowledge required for the work, nor assess individuals properly at assessment.

With internal consultants, the issues are twofold again. Internal consultants often do not have the capability to self-analyse their skills clearly. They tend to look at the label of what it is they should be able to do (for example, change management) but do not really comprehend the fundamentals or the sophistication of change management. They have, however, read a book about it. They have not tried but failed and learned from that experience.


Consulting companies lead with their experienced senior consultants to complete the sale and perhaps evaluate the issues and then assign junior consultants with little experience to complete the work.

Unfortunately, this appears to me to be normal practice rather than that caused by sudden unavailability of key staff. Unless the principal of the client is high ranking and influential in the industry, the consulting company sends in junior consultants to both consult and learn the trade at the same time. The consulting company wins, but the client tends to lose.


Consulting companies, in particular, don’t deliver on their promises as, although their intellectual capability and rapport building skills are excellent, their planning and execution skills border on the negligent.

This is less of an issue with individual consultants than with companies. Individual consultants tend to work, but not always, whatever hours are necessary to meet a deadline. Corporations are more hostage to organisational culture and morale. They tend to rationalise the “reasons” for missing a deadline rather than pulling out all stops to meet a deadline.

They tend to have not arranged their capacity and capability around their operations; rather, they have arranged it around their intellectual capability.


Consultants are totally unwilling to share their intellectual property in a vain hope that they will get more consultancy fees from their client.

Consultants hold their intellectual property so tight that the client does not learn the rationale behind the “new way” and the outcome is usually not sustainable.

Consultants are generally too precious about their intellectual property. They tend to believe two things:

  1. The ideas they have are unique and give real advantage to the recipients well above what other consultants can think of. This is really unusual. If it is real, the consultant will be very rich, very quickly, through the impact of transference of “best practice”. If the idea is just another good idea where the key is in implementation, then it is better to share the idea widely and excel at the ability to implement
  2. The value of their organisation, which they may want to sell at some stage to realise the value in their ideas, is tied directly and only directly to their intellectual property. Of course, this is far from the truth. Intellectual property is important, but so are:
    • a. Having clear processes and procedures that mean the organisation is not reliant on one person
    • b. Being good, very good, at execution
    • c. Having a detailed strategy for moving potential clients through the sales pipeline
    • d. Having a robust recruitment and induction programme that ensures only the best available in the salary range the organisation is willing to pay are available to consult for the organisation.


Consultants hedge their bets both in terms of the advice they give and the way in which they consider the client.

Really poor consultants, who I think are thankfully few, give equivocal advice. Not advice with specific cost benefit analysis and a preferred recommendation, just a set of options and the client is left to take their pick. This is lazy consulting. The consultant, unless they are at the very junior level of rates and accompanying experience, is contracted for their ability to evaluate alternatives, not just give them.

Some consultants damage their business and inadvertently the client by being unsure whether to treat the client as a long tern prospect or as a once-off opportunity. If they decide to treat the client as a once-off opportunity and do not work towards building a long term relationship built on trust, they lose the opportunity of more business. More importantly for the client, the consultant provides short term advice with no option of challenging the client’s mind set and strategy, which may be in the best interest of the client, although risky for the consultant.

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