All posts by James D. Newman

What do I need to pay an expert consultant for when I can do this myself?

Should you hire a consultant? When trying to lose weight are you more interested in seeing a video of how an average person lost fifty pounds and the steps they took, or listening to a fitness or nutrition fully qualified training expert? Now this is an actual conundrum, because both sources have credibility and experience it what it takes. If you ask a personal trainer if you should hire one, what do you think they would say? Both the amateur and the expert have learned how to get good results, so who is the best resource to listen to for advice?

Looking inward for the answer

Sharing of free information is at an all-time high, but who is actually consuming that information?

A personal anecdote: I had a 1998 Ford Expedition years ago that got a check engine light. I brought it to a car repair shop in Mystic, CT back in 2004 to get a diagnostic test run on it, because I had the dreaded “CHECK ENGINE” light. The bill for the diagnostic was around $100 and the estimated cost of repairs came to over $1000! This may sound normal to you, but the diagnostic data said the Mass Air Flow sensor was faulty. The bill for repairs included something I’ve still yet to ever hear about from another source: there was a $50 plus estimate for “gasket carbon scraping” as part of the break down (no gaskets were being replaced or parts with gaskets removed!) – I suppose my headlight fluid needed changing, too? I googled (at no cost) what it would take to replace this sensor in the truck, and ordered the actual Ford part for $35. It took me less than 15 minutes with no tools to change it out. I’m not a mechanic, but what do you think this experience did for my trust of local repair shops? Needless to say, I’ve never repeated business with this company again, and believe that I’ve told people about this experience before!

Another example: On the company’s website we run on a WordPress platform and a very particular theme that only allowed for menus to have a green background, and a blue background to match the overall color scheme would be better. We could have paid someone on Fivrr.com to resolve this, or in our community of blogging friends to figure out this coding issue. However, this took about 5 minutes of googling and discovering a theme-plugin that was specifically created for this that allowed for customization of any color. That plugin was free and now the menu backgrounds are blue.

Lesson learned – depending on what it is, we are empowered to solve problems internally – it saves money and creates a culture of self-reliance.

A different view

A potential scenario: A city elects a mayor and/or has an elected board with potentially no previous experience on running a city, and the charter allows for a professional city manager to run and oversee city operations. If there were only a mayor and a clerk, how do you think budgets would end up? How would grants be written? Who would manage the different elements of the city’s infrastructure and who would handle the human resources responsibilities? Cities often thrive with professional, qualified, and credentialed management in place. Yes, the duties can be farmed out, and people can Google what to do given the situation (i.e. submitting for a grant), but the learning curve and chance of failure is not typically worth the risk. Let us also not forget, the people who thought you should be in charge will appreciate that you sought out professional help to prevent or improve issues affecting the city.

Another example a little closer to our normal theme: You, your team or your organization wants to improve performance. Where are you going to look for how to do that? Are you going to try to improve things yourself? Are you going to try Google? Is that how you ended up here? People have been trying to manage error reduction with common sense for as long as there were people. How many times do you end up in your car with no keys to start it? Either you’ve failed at it before and instituted some method of ensuring success, or you already had a measure in place to prevent the error in the first place. This error was successfully managed with self-checking, most likely. If all errors could be managed with stricter rules, punishment, fear, shame, and common sense, why do errors (especially ones that lead to consequential events) keep occurring?

Can you create your own program, manage it in-house and appoint someone the lead? Absolutely, and a lot of places have tried that effort. We have a client that tried to do it on their own, taught their leadership team a few hours of human performance fundamentals, and expected the knowledge would trickle down into the organization. This did not work. Also, after an event with human error involved, the workers would have to talk about their role in it at a meeting with higher up leadership and it felt to them like a firing squad of questions – even though the management team had the best of intentions, the unintended consequences made the workers feel like event prevention was all about scaring them to work better so they didn’t have to participate in these meetings anymore. There was no overall cohesive strategy, and it ended up actually tainting the improvement effort, which makes it harder to do properly the next time around. They contacted us to see what can be done to repair the cultural view on human performance improvement, and to give them new ideas for their program implementation.

Lesson learned – depending on what it is, we are empowered to solve problems externally – it saves money and creates a culture of expert-reliance.

Conclusion

Depending on what it is happens to be the key variable in this analysis, and to be careful to know when a professional consultant is required to fulfill a particular task. If you’re looking to reduce the frequency and severity of events, do not try to go down that road without professional guidance.

Please call us today if you are looking for an expert to help you with your human performance improvement effort.

Related Links

From the Muse:

“Good to Know: Why Companies Really Hire Consultants”

  • They Want an Outside Eye
  • They Need Extra Horsepower
  • They Want Specialized Skills
  • They Want a Safe Zone

From ExpertPages:

“But why hire a professional consultant?”

A professional consultant brings to a project:

  • Accountability for results, schedule and costs to achieve an answer — this translates into significant economies when compared to in-house efforts.
  • Proven, yet flexible, methodology appropriate for the task.
  • No cost of training or “experimenting” on how to complete the assignment — focused on achieving results.
  • Objectivity — no “sacred cows”.
  • Anonymity — the ability to gather data within ethical limits but without revealing the ultimate use.
  • Established “data-mining” methods, utilizing the full breadth and depth of available data.
  • Experience in interpreting public data, to gather more than is on the surface.
  • Creativity drawn from a wide experience base.