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.