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Saturday, 14 September 2013 16:12

No one knows I am an external

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This is a piece about consultancy and the ethics of consultants in one specific area.

I was in one of my client offices the other day, sitting at my desk ploughing through some work, developing a thought piece for the client. Next to me were a couple of people I do not know, who were engaged in a little light banter. They were talking about the company, the work they were doing, and how things were going – but nothing too deep or serious, just chit-chat. At one point one of the people said “of course, no one here knows I am not an employee.”

He then went on to say how great this was and how this meant he had been successful as a consultant that everyone just assumed he was an employee. It was said as if his definition of a successful consultant was one who was perceived as an employee - I am just a member of the team. And this got me thinking - was he right?

His point made me think because I always keep reminding people that I am not an employee. I do this for several reasons. I do it for myself as I have to keep thinking that sooner or later I will be exiting whatever organisation I am in. I think it is part of the role of a good consultant to help clients change, and to sustain that change after the consultant is no longer with them. If I am not constantly thinking – “well, how will this work when I am not here”, the chance of delivering change that is not dependent on me is significantly reduced.

Additionally, it is important for the client to remember I am external – because they have to consciously realise I won’t be there for a prolonged period and they should not build up a dependency on my skills. If there are things I am doing that would be better done by a member of staff, then they should allocate them to a member of staff and not me.

In summary my view is this: from the perspective of guaranteeing your revenue, if you are a consultant you might like it for a client to forget you are external, to keep paying your bills and keep on engaging you for as long as possible. But if you are trying to add value in a way that justifies consulting level fees I think the individual engagement should be quite finite. (I am not trying to suggest you can’t work for the same client on different engagements).

There are real advantages at times in not being seen as a consultant. It can reduce barriers and help people engage with you who might otherwise be suspicious of a consultant. But isn’t doing that a bit misleading, even unethical? Shouldn’t we try to be open about who we are and what we are doing? If you think the answer to that is yes and you are a consultant, then everyone should know you are external.

Could this be the real difference between being a contractor and being a consultant? For a contractor, maybe it is right and natural to slot into a client team, to do a specific job and seamlessly work as part of the team. For a consultant, perhaps it is better to be an agent of change with an external and independent viewpoint. If you become part of the furniture, that viewpoint has been lost.

Read 35991 times Last modified on Saturday, 19 October 2013 16:45
Richard Newton

Richard Newton wears many hats. Included amongst these are his work as a consultant, author, blogger, change leader, company director, and program manager. His most well known project management book is The Project Manager: Mastering the Art of Delivery. He is also the author of the best-selling Dream It, Do It, Live It which applies project management principles to achieving personal dreams.

His articles and blogs can be followed at www.changinghats.com. Information about his company can be found at www.enixus.co.uk. His books are available at bookshops and online sellers worldwide.

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