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.

Many of you are probably saying that this doesn't really matter. It all goes back to the Hawthorne effect -- remember, that's where a company turned up its lights and found that productivity increased. Then when productivity stabilized, management tried turning the lights down and found -- like magic -- that productivity magically increased again. The lesson is that over the short haul almost anything you do can potentially increase productivity.

So corporate America, be a bit more careful in doing your homework. Just because speakers have a brand name, don't assume that their principles work in the real world. That's the bad news. The good news is that the due diligence isn't that hard to do. You've just got to do some homework on how they actually run their own companies. I can guarantee that you'll often be surprised by what you find.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." -- Albert Einstein

BOOK EXCERPT OF THE WEEK

From "Mintzberg on Management: Inside our Strange World of Organizations" by Henry Mintzberg (Free Press, 1989):

"We should be encouraging young organizations to establish themselves and attain adulthood; we should be encouraging small organizations that involve their people and provide eclecticism in the marketplace; we should be encouraging autonomous, focused organizations that understand their missions, 'know' the people they serve, and excite the ones they employ; we should be encouraging "thick" management, deep knowledge, healthy competition, and authentic social responsibility. We need to get back to our basic senses, to feel genuine commitment, to use informal intuition by promoting forms of organization that encourage these things. Only in these ways, it seems to me, shall we find our way back from the frozen wastes of our strange world of organizations."

Blog Ballot Results

Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ABCNews.com online ballot:

How should we deal with immigrants?

   Don't give them anything, 17.2 percent

   Give them a helping hand, 34.4 percent

   Give them a ticket home, 41.3 percent

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at bob@workingwounded.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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