Coping when consultants come a-calling

Or:  I am a consultant.  You are meddling in my job.  He/she/they are  exploiting the boss’s gullibility…

Odd experience of being on both ends of the consultant/consultee equation recently, with unsettling results.

First the background.  I’m providing communications support for a big  change programme in a company which has brought in one of the big 4 consulting firms to deliver the technical stuff.  As part of their standard pack the firm offers support with comms, so I had a meeting the other day with a consultant who has theoretically been brought in to do  work I was brought in to deliver.

Starting the meeting with an open mind, I found my hackles rising when she started by telling me what a comms strategy is and how to plan one.  Every time she suggested things I’d already done my jaw clenched a little harder.  Eventually we agreed, amicably,  that  my specialism was comms – and I probably had ten years’ more experience in the field than she did; hers was programme planning – and dashboards bring me out in a rash,  so we’d split the job along those lines and get on with it.  Which we have, perfectly happily ever since.

Scoot on a couple of days.  I am also providing comms planning support for another client who wants to re-focus the work being done in the department she’s just been brought in to lead.  We had a team meeting last week.  Knowing that I can be  – ahem – forceful when I’ve got the bit between my teeth, I really tried to stress how much I understood their problems and recognised the great work they were doing against the odds before getting into the  “what might we need to do to improve matters?” stuff.  Heard yesterday from my client that they just felt undermined by the criticism they felt I doled out.

Now, I feel genuinely bad about that – even though I know the team isn’t firing on all cylinders, and so do they – so something has to change.  It’s never nice to feel that you’ve made someone’s working day worse.  But it’s a good reminder of a lesson I’ve been learning since the beginning of my career – it never does to take things personally.   

The consultant talking to me should have started by asking where we were on the job before she leapt in with the assumption that nothing was happening – but she wasn’t criticising me personally, she just didn’t know what I’d done.  It was pointless getting cross about it.  The team I met last week evidently didn’t hear any of the good stuff about themselves, they just took away a sense that it’s not good enough.  There’s a lesson there for me about framing what I’m saying, but equally it’s worth remembering that however hard you try, some people will only hear criticism, and there’s nothing you can do about it.


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