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Why pay for outside help?

Creating synergy between an internal team and an external consultant – a winning strategy!

Your board of directors engages an external consultant. You wonder about the added value, what this person will contribute, and what is a fair price to pay them. Here are some answers.

A few years ago, I was confronted with an attempted mutiny by an IT manager. His bone of contention was that with the money set aside for my assignment as project director, he could have one or two more developers working for him. Fortunately, the company’s management team clearly understood the value of a project director and the revolt was nipped in the bud. What is interesting about this experience is that once the project was delivered, this same IT manager sent me a note saying: “I know I made life tough for you at the beginning, but today I recognize that we would not have succeeded without you.”

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself” – Galileo

In a world of “soft” skills, defining the value of an external advisor is a difficult exercise, especially when mentoring, coaching, leading a group, managing people or managing projects.

What do these fields have in common? The expert is there to help individuals achieve a goal. These experts know all too well that if a horse can be brought to water, it cannot be made to drink. Experts must therefore make sure that they create a dynamic that will prompt the group or the individuals within it to achieve results. If the work is done properly, having an expert at hand will serve as a catalyst. And often, this contribution is overlooked.

We all know the wisecrack: “A consultant is someone who asks your watch to tell you the time”. And yes, sometimes this is the impression that they give. But in fact, without the consultant, you would still be left wondering what the time is! Consultants are catalysts, triggering a reaction by being there and getting people to think along the right lines.

Another example involved a person leading a project-management workshop for a board. The goal was to develop a shared vision of project management. The workshop was going extremely well; the group agreed on the role of the project manager and how to sell it within the organisation. The participants’ assessment gave the facilitator a score of 4 out of 5. The chief executive confirmed that the session met expectations.

Thereafter, two people in charge thought that the price paid was too high and refused to be helped by an external project manager.

In my opinion, the presence of the external facilitator encouraged cohesion within the group, for two reasons:

  1. He was neutral to the discussions

  2. He had unquestionably strong experience in the particular field, which allowed him to provide relevant information for the group to converge around.

The two managers considered that they were able to succeed without outside help. I do not question their skills. However, to date, six months later, nothing has been achieved because no one within the company has time to work on the project.

I do not know if you have seen the video about a retired expert called in to repair a machine that has been stopped for several days because no one can locate the problem.

The expert arrives, goes around the machine, turns two or three bolts and the machine starts again. The head of the company is very happy and thanks him warmly. A few days later, the boss receives an invoice for CHF 10,000. He is taken aback and immediately calls the expert to ask him to justify such an exorbitant price for a few minutes of work. The latter replies: “To repair the machine in a few minutes, I had to learn for more than 30 years. Moreover, I know full well that for every hour that the machine is stopped, you lose more than CHF 10,000. In fact, from my point of view, I did not charge you enough.”

In your opinion: if, before doing the work, the expert had asked the boss if he was willing to pay CHF 10,000 to repair his machine, what do you think he would have answered?

These examples raise the broad question of how hard it is to discern the true value of a facilitator.

“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” – Albert Einstein

What about you ? Do you have similar or different experiences? Let me know, I'll be happy to discuss it with you!

Artwork : Mélanie Bénard Tremblay, 2019, © Marakoudja.

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