Having worked fairly low down the hierarchy in some places where there was almost an epidemic of consultants, I always believed that the managers that employed them were incompetent fools. After all, in those places, the consultants didn’t bring in any knowledge that didn’t exist within the company already. If only the managers asked the right people, whose expertise they were already paying for, then they wouldn’t need to spend exorbitant amounts on consultants. Pretty obvious, right?
Well no, that was a naive view. In fact those managers were by no means stupid. In fact this action was entirely rational given their controlling nature.
The real reason that senior managers use consultants, when they know perfectly well that there are others in the organisation who are quite capable, is so that they can maintain their empire.
The problem with getting someone else in the organisation involved is that they risk losing control, which is the last thing they want. So using cold logic they decide that rather than lose any control, they will pay someone external to do the work. This has some added advantages:
- In doing so they also increase the kudos of the project. If a manager calls in external reinforcements who are seen as experts in their field, it suggests that the task being undertaken is hugely important and far too difficult to be completed by the usual suspects.
- The manager can always get the consultants to present their findings in the way they want it presented. If someone internal was doing the work then they are less controllable, more likely to be independent and have their own views.
- The consultants are gone once the job is done. If someone wants to probe further into the consultants’ findings or take issue with the methodology then a clever manager will just delay the inquest until the consultants have left. But on the other hand, if the manager needs to distance themselves by ditching the consultants’ work then there is nobody around to be offended or defensive.
So, with all these built-in advantages you can see why the control freak manager, who puts empire protection at a premium, believes that consultants are really quite cheap.