Magazine article Management Today

No More Heroes: Casting Consultants in the Role of Heroes Who Can Solve Our Problems Is a Guarantee of Dissatisfaction for All Concerned

Magazine article Management Today

No More Heroes: Casting Consultants in the Role of Heroes Who Can Solve Our Problems Is a Guarantee of Dissatisfaction for All Concerned

Article excerpt


In January of this year I attended the FA Cup tie between Aston Villa and Wimbledon. If you are unfamiliar with the world of football, perhaps I should mention that Wimbledon is credited -- if that is the right word -- with doing for the spirit of the game rather what Idi Amin did for consensus government.

It was a shabby match in which four players were booked and one was sent off. Even to a relatively neutral observer such as myself it seemed that the Wimbledon team was 90% to blame for creating such a bad-tempered environment and, to add insult to injury, Vinny Jones (Wimbledon's answer to Lucifer in the eyes of opposition supporters) scored a rather fortunate goal 15 minutes into the second half.

There was a strong feeling among the crowd -- to put it mildly -- that a victory for the evil Wimbledon would be a gross miscarriage of justice, and it looked as though a fairer order would be restored when Aston Villa was awarded a penalty with only 10 minutes of the match remaining. If the team scored from the Penalty then it would have a chance to adopt the avenging role in a replay the following Wednesday.

But no, to the collective horror of the entire assembly of fans, captain Allan Evans declined the part of a latter-day Roy of the Rovers and fired the shot within easy reach of the diving goalkeeper. As the closing minutes ticked away the frustration grew amidst the crowd. Nowhere was this more apparent than to my immediate right where a young man was emitting a wailing sound -- reminiscent, I imagine, of a wild animal caught in an excruciatingly painful trap.

Insult after insult was hurled from the very depths of his being -- not, as you might expect, at the devils from South London, but at the Aston Villa team he professed to support. The pain in his eyes increased and his girl friend in the next seat watched, half in disbelief, half in amusement, as the last seconds of the match elapsed and he slumped into his seat, spent with frustration and anger at the heroes who had failed him at the crucial moment.

My own children, although disappointed, had recovered their usual cheerfulness by the time we reached the car but I wondered how long it would take our wild, neighbouring spectator to recover his normal state.

What has all this to do with a user's view of consultants, you may ask? Well, it seemed to me to explain why so many consultancy projects fail.

As children, there is almost nothing which we believe we cannot do, but as we grow to adults we start to give away our power and nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of football teams (or snooker players, cricketers or film stars), where we cast the players in the role of heroes, externalising our own creativity and relying on these heroes to live out our dreams for us. When they fail, as in the case of Aston Villa on that cold January afternoon, our despair and frustration, quick to appear know no bounds.

For four years I was financial director of a medium-sized engineering company and in that time we had a procession of consultants come and make fluent presentations to us, demonstrating how they could save us money. Colourful overhead slides and glossy binders were the tools of the trade and the slickness and efficiency of their presentations were indicative, no doubt, of men and women who were competent in their chosen professional field.

Why then, did so many of these projects end in tears, with the directors blaming the consultants, the consultants blaming the staff and the staff resolutely ignoring everyone because they had seen it all before and someone had to do the job.

The problems, I believe, lay not in the level of professonal competence of any of the consultants but, rather, in the approach of all parties to the projects. Subsequent conversations with other executives have indicated that this problem was by no means confined solely to my old company. …

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