The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Experiences Executives have with Management Consultants

In preparation for the opening keynote at the 2010 Confab meeting of professional management consultants, we asked about a thousand global business leaders to respond to an online survey about their use of and experience with management consultants. When over a hundred executives responded within a few hours, I knew I had hit a nerve.

Eighty three respondents out of 107 replied that they hire management consultants. They represent a broad range of industries from healthcare/pharma and financial services to manufacturing, retail and agriculture. Here are some of their comments, minus specific identifiers. They range in size from start-ups to about USD $120 Billion

Ninety three percent said they were very satisfied to moderately satisfied with their experience with a management consultant. Here are a few of their comments:

The good ….there are tales of how management consultants have saved the company with their recommendations.

Worked with (major consulting firm) consultants on an SG&A rationalization project that was well thought out and very valuable to the organization.

Great experience with a former industry leader that helped the company develop key evaluation hurdles for new projects and prepare a commercialization plan

The bad …there are tales of how the consultant just rephrased into consultant speak what the client told them, adding no value.

Our CEO hired a consultant to evaluate the sales team. He found him via the internet. The evaluation tests he used were not relevant to our distribution model or industry. He didn’t understand our business and he failed miserably. Waste of money.

All talk and theory – no action and practical application

The ugly … Consultant discovered a major weakness in our CEO’s leadership skills and tried to force him out by exposing it to key leaders, very unprofessional approach…should have worked through it at an executive/owner level.

So what would executives like management consultants to know? When given a chance to tell management consultants a thing or two, here is just a sampling what they said:

1. Work with the client. He probably knows what he wants but may not have sufficient resources such as time or people, to carry it out as quickly or to the standards required. Building trust that the consultant has a deep understanding of the clients needs, both spoken and unspoken, and then consistently acting to achieve those goals will always have satisfactory results

2. Sarah, take a lesson from small business. They have to produce results or they don’t eat. The days of charging outrageous sums for less than stellar results are over. Success comes from deep commitment and respect on both sides.

3. Spend the extra time up front understanding the problem and don’t make the client spend too much time and effort educating you.

4. a. Study the potential client prior to meeting with him/her
b. Do not assume analytical illiteracy on the part of the client
c. Do not assume the client will tell you what she wants to hear
d. Fancy slides do not compensate for mediocre work

Dr. Sarah Layton speaks, consults and writes on value innovation and strategy and can be reached at She is a qualified Blue Ocean Strategy practitioner and managing partner of Corporate Strategy Institute based in Orlando, Fl. She presented the Keynote address at the 2010 Confab in Reno and has travelled Asia, North, Central and South America, and India working with clients to find new markets that have no competition. ( (

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Posted by Dr. Sarah Layton in Organizational Strategy on March 2, 2011.

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