What to do when your company has called in consultants

In the long run, employees should help the consultants succeed -- regardless of what success might entail

Dear Bob ...

Management has decided to bring in the consultants, and sadly the consultants aren't you. A lot of the employees here are up in arms, and the official explanation -- that they're here to "help identify opportunities to improve our processes by reducing cycle times and waste" -- could mean just about anything.

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I've been telling my peers we should cooperate as best we can and trust that the consultants will reach reasonable conclusions. My peers tell me I'm hopelessly naive, and that it's up to us to make sure the consultants hear "what they should hear" so that they don't recommend a round of layoffs or offshoring half the work we do.

Any advice?

- BOHICA

Dear BOHICA ...

My first piece of advice is that if one of the consultants has the misfortune to be named "Bob," don't snicker behind your hand because you saw "Office Space." Give us Bobs a break!

Beyond that, you might as well cooperate because all of your alternatives are worse.

Management brings in consultants for a few different reasons. One, the best, is the honest desire to find ways to improve things. A second is to buy some time -- to get political cover for problems that otherwise might be career-killers. The third is also political cover, but in this case it's to pay the consultants to read a prewritten script. The script might be to justify plans already made or to help fight a political battle with other managers who have announced plans the consultant-engagers don't find palatable. There are probably other reasons as well, but these are enough to illustrate the point I'm about to make.

If your managers have an honest desire to find ways to improve things, you have a professional obligation to assist in the process. Beyond that, there's a pretty good chance "improve things" will result in changes strong employees should find refreshing.

If your managers have brought the consultants in for any other reason, it's unlikely you'll be able to affect the consultants' conclusions -- but you might do yourselves some harm by trying to manipulate them.

So give it an honest shot and do your best to focus on keeping the joint running while the consultants do their best to do whatever it is they were brought in to do.

- Bob (but not the one who appeared in "Office Space")

This story, "What to do when your company has called in consultants," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

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