Do Companies Need Consultants?


Many years ago I had the opportunity to move from a corporation to a startup. That time, I did it voluntarily, after years of thought and research. I can still remember the excitement of the first day in my new office, setting up the banquet tables, and stringing together the new Gateway computers. The details are fuzzy but there was a DSL connection from USWest, a router, a switch, and a networked version of Windows. One hour stretched into two, tech support calls piled up on one another, and as evening approached, I sat back with the realization that I was all by myself. Every company I worked for up to that moment had provided all of the resources I needed, and if I wanted something or someone else, I hired them.

That feeling, alternately annoying and terrifying, comes to mind when well meaning people ask a variation of the question, “Why do companies hire you?”

If you’re a consultant, or contractor, or freelancer, you’ll recognize this next statement: companies don’t hire me, people do. It’s a tiny mind shift, but when you go from thinking about a company, which is large, resourceful, and bureaucratic, to thinking about an individual in that company trying to get something done, the reasons for why they hire consultants gets a little clearer.

Here is Greg’s quick list of reasons why managers hire him.

  • Needing help with the future. Strategy sessions can easily devolve into a rehashing of today’s decisions and yesterday’s problems. Bringing in a strategy consultant keeps everyone in the future. “Our strategic planning is stale,” is how this sounds.
  • Ego. Believe it or not, especially when it comes to executive coaching, consultants are hired as a reward for work well done. In a recent CEO breakfast on compensation, we covered this exact phenomenon. Human’s want what we can’t have and, conversely, we like having things that others don’t possess. An executive coach not only increases the effectiveness of that executive, but it’s an ego stroke.
  • On a more practical note, there is a talent gap. The organization is missing a skillset or knowledge base and they want a transfer of knowledge to the current team. “Lauren is great but she doesn’t have the experience in X,” is what that sounds like.
  • The talent in the company is tied up in important work. This is third on my list, but the most common because there is always too much work to be done. If the talent focuses on a new area, their current area slips. “We need to do this, but we need to do a lot of things,” is what this sounds like.
  • There are politics clouding decisions. All organizations are political and can occasionally benefit from an outsider dropping in. The key is that the outsider can’t stay long enough to be an insider. (insert consultant joke here)
  • The company will benefit from another industry’s best practices. Similar to dealing with politics, seeing how another brain works toward an outcome helps a company or division keep its edge. “We’ve always done things this way,” is how this sounds.
  • There is a need for insurance or transparency. A board initiates bringing in a consultant to put a second set of eyes on the work being done. This may sound like politics, but in practice it sounds more like, “How can we be sure we’re on the right track?”
  • The need for validation, especially in growth areas where a new path is being walked. Like going to the doctor to make sure you can handle vigorous exercise, bringing in a consultant to validate you’re moving the right direction helps you move faster. “I want to know if I should dedicate more resources to project X,” is how this sounds.

The reasons you’re hired are probably the same. If there’s one thing every reason has in common, it’s that the clients hiring consultants aren’t damaged. In my experience, injured and broken people don’t reach out for help. It’s weird. The people who reach out to me for help tend to be well adjusted and successful. Remember that.


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