A symbiotic relationship: managers and consultants

Why do management consultants get so much money? Why do managers hire consultants? From my experience both as someone who did hire consultants and someone who was hired as a consultant, there are (beside lots of other reasons) three major reasons for hiring consultants. You hire consultants because

  1. you need people for a job (fast or temporary) but can't hire them yourself (body leasing)
  2. you need special expertise (e.g. m&a) which you don't have
  3. you outsource decision making and being responsible

The first and second are obvious, but the third one is the most interesting one I think and a major reason for the amount of money in the consulting business.

When your're a manager, you have mostly two jobs: make decisions and take responsibility. Often you also have a budget. The best you can do now, is hire a consultant with your budget to make the decisions for you and also take the corresponding responsibility. What's left for you to do? Nothing. Mission accomplished.

Say you're an IT manager and want to buy a new CRM. You could either look into it, delegate due diligence and make a decision. After the CRM software fails you need to take the responsibility (if you can't deflect it) and get fired.

Or you could take your budget, hire a consultant who decides for you what system to buy (or what product to build or what market to enter or which competitor to buy, it doesn't stop with IT decisions). Then you tell everyone "Accenture told me to buy XYZ". If the software fails, tell everyone "Bain told me so and they have the brightest people. How could I know better?". This even works when you're 15 years in the ABC business and the consultant is someone fresh from an ivy league school with no experience. Astonishing.

It also explains why the top consultancies hire the brightest people. Not because they need bright people for their projects. Most consultancies just resell their knowledge again and again, no bright people needed. But

  • they have the money to hire the best
  • their clients can fall back to the line "McKinsey has the best people. If they didn't know XZY wasn't right, noone could know!"

So this is a very profitable and symbiotic relationship between managers and consultants, which explains why manager outsource their core duties.

Thanks for listening. As ever, please do share your thoughts and additional tips in the comments below, or on your own blog (I have trackbacks enabled).

Stephan Schmidt Administrator
CTO Coach , svese
Stephan is a CTO coach. He has been a coder since the early 80s, has founded several startups and worked in small and large companies as CTO. After he sold his latest startup he took up CTO coaching. He can be found on LinkedIn or follow him in Twitter.
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