Working Wounded: Consultants Have No Clothes

This week's blog should get me in a lot of trouble. But I think it's time that someone points out that many of the biggest business consultants, authors and speakers run really crappy businesses on their own.

I've heard the jokes about consultants, and they all go down basically the same path -- a consultant is someone who borrows your watch and then tells you what time it is. But oftentimes this is the best case scenario, because consultants can be much worse than just irrelevant. I've discovered that many of the biggest authors, consultants and speakers run businesses that are much more poorly managed than many of the corporations that pay them such lofty fees.

Ironic isn't it?

Take Consultant No. 1 -- I've confided the real names to my editor, but dear reader you'll have to give me some slack here, because many of these people are my colleagues, and in some cases, my friends.

Consultant No. 1 has had a series of best-selling books and commands top dollar on the speaking circuit, and chances are you've heard or seen him at one time during your career. But his business has trouble keeping employees, mainly because of his attitude. He claims to be a great listener, but his staff has told me that he yells far too much to ever hear a word they say. He is so volatile that he is barely able to hold on to staff for more than a year, and his office might as well have a revolving door on it.

Consultant No. 2 is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, but his company is remarkably dysfunctional. Its top leadership seems to change with the seasons. More than any other, this company almost seems to dedicate itself to violating every principle that it espouses in its publications and presentations with its own people. It is a rudderless, often contradictory and cruel place that talks about sharing the credit but seldom does.

Consultant No. 3 three has built a company with some of the lowest morale anywhere. It's hard to sort out where the battle lines are worse, in the executive suites or in the trenches. At one point I actually got to see some of the company's internal survey results and couldn't imagine that any of this company's customers own results were that pathetic. Employees said they felt that management was more likely to knife them in the back then pat them on it. Although there was a lot of talk about values, the organization seems to only hold one value dear, and that is making the sale.

Woody Allen once said that those who can, do. And those who can't, teach. Clearly his statement needs an amendment: Many of those who really can't do just become top-priced consultants.

So what can we do about this? I'm not suggesting that anyone throw out the baby with the bath water. Each of these three people has an important message and strategies to share that could help your business. I just believe that corporations need to do a bit more due diligence before ramming a consultant's specific message down its own employees' throats.

A company should at be a little laboratory for its own principles. For anyone who might speak to or consult with your company, ask for proof that the consultant eats his or her own dog food and practices the very principles that are foisted on your company and the rest of the business world. Doesn't seem like too much to ask that people live up to their own messages.

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