Of Rodents and Consultants

A recent Financial Times article compared consultants to rats — the hypothesis being that both are plentiful and both are able to sniff out plentiful food sources.

FT made the case that developed countries (US, Western Europe) spend disproportionately on consulting. As a result, the consultant populations in those countries parallel NYC’s rat population. The reasoning ranged from vaguely acceptable and therapeutic CEO counseling, to the notion that Western executives “speak the language, and thus are more at ease dealing with consulting pitches.”

Maybe the article was subliminally inferring a different connection. Rats congregate around stinky garbage. So if the most economically developed nations employ the most consultants, maybe consultants are drawn to the souring carcasses of crappy companies.

I’ve seen many an instance where bloated organizations headed by clueless CEOs turn to consultants as “change agents.” The subsequent personnel gutting and activity outsourcing recommended by the consultants then gets blessed by the CEO. In turn, the same or other consultants then get hired to execute said strategy.

The baton-passing and subsequent upheaval usually results in a demoralized and bankrupt shell of a company (Sears, I’m looking at you). This, of course, gets pinned on the consultants, not the weasels in the boardroom who refused to enact changes without air cover.

From my perspective, consultants do often align themselves with bad organizations. While masked under a virtuous cloak of helping those who can’t help themselves, the reality is the opportunities are too plentiful for consulting firms with aggressive growth agendas.

Good consultants, on the other hand, seek out companies that value perspective and expertise, and a consultant’s ability to guide clients on the right path, not just the most profitable one for the consultant.

So before we go around pinning names on all consultants, remember that it takes a rat to know a rat.


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Tom Rodenhauser