April 24, 2013
8 Things Consultants Will Never Say

Hiring the right consultant is tough, especially since in most cases there is no physical “product” to evaluate. You often have to decide whether promises like “We can!” and “We will!” are likely to come true.

Aside from due diligence like checking credentials and references, your decision largely rests on what a consultant says – and on what you believe.

Here are eight things you’ll almost never hear a consultant say, especially during the wining and dining phase.

If you find one who does, consider it a great sign:

“Implementation will be more disruptive than you hope.”

All projects are disruptive. In fact, the best projects are often hugely disruptive, as well they should — you’re making changes. A consultant who downplays the disruption factor is inexperienced or fibbing.

A consultant who doesn’t sugarcoat things up front is much more likely to shoot straight during the rest of the engagement.

“I don’t know.”

Consultants love to know. Can you blame them? A consultant’s job is to provide answers, especially answers you don’t have. (If you had the answers you wouldn’t need help.)

A consultant willing to say, “I don’t know, let’s figure it out,” is more likely to take a collaborative approach than one who pretends to be omniscient.

“No solution is ever turn-key.”

There are no turn-key solutions unless the consultant is providing very simple equipment, hardware or applications. Even then some amount of training and process modification is usually necessary.

There will always be more involved on your end than you expect, so the more you know ahead of time, the better your plan, and the more likely you’ll end up on-budget and on time.

“I’m not sure I understand the requirements.”

Some consultants love fuzzy requirements because “misunderstandings” or “gaps” create wiggle room later. (Scope change, anyone?)

Good consultants want to know as much as possible since the better they understand your expectations the easier it is to deliver those expectations. The consultant who makes it easy up front is likely to make it really hard on the back end.

Great consultants will drive you crazy seeking details early on — and that’s a good thing.

“You don’t need us to do that.”

Great consultants are willing to point out ways customers can save money. Losing a little revenue is better than losing customers who realize they purchased services they didn’t need. Great consultants operate just like you do; they try to build long-term business relationships.

“Your team is telling me something different — let’s sort things out.”

What you want and what your employees want, especially your end-user employees, are often two very different things. Employee wish lists can get really long… and really profitable for a consultant.

Look for a consultant who tries to reconcile various perspectives and needs so the project scope is clearly defined. A clearly defined project protects you.

“We’ll want to come back a month or so later, at no charge, just to see how things turned out.”

All consultants focus on successful project completion. The problem is some feel “successful completion” means “final payment.” Good consultants care about how the project turned out for you. The best consultant I hired stopped by or called every three months to check in.

Great for us, but something in it for him too: Identifying problems helped him improve his processes.


Rarely can a consultant provide everything you request for the price and schedule you need. “No” is disappointing but is often the answer you most need to hear up front. Would you rather create a plan based on reality or on empty promises?

Some consultants work on the “agree now, modify later” principle.

Find one who doesn’t.

  • DocLinne Bourgetmbaphd

    Surely you are not serious–I have said all of these to clients ( using “difficult” not “disruptive):, which is why I have been kept in organizations for 7, 10, 14 yrs. The 7 yr. and 14 yr. relationships with client executives started with a NO. I even turned back a Federal contract as the work would have harmed the organization (it turned out)…they were shocked..this had never happened. We re-strategized. By focusing on what they really needed, I ended up with 3 years of work and a 14 year ongoing working relationship with the finest executive I have ever known! Always do what is best for the client…simple…has worked well for 30 years.

    Of course this takes deep skill, training, deep personal clarity (inner work is essential) and dedication…but if you don’t have these you shouldn’t be consulting anyway. When I go into a company I have their soul and psyche in my hands…these 8 things are necessary but not nearly sufficient!! Thankfully I was trained when integrity was a given…I never saw cheating among my graduate school colleagues…tragically,, it is different now….A recent CEO client offered me the CEO position in his very large startup company and offered to help me run for State Senator…he trusts my ethics and ability…even with a few smile lines, ethics and ability and dedication are still valued!

    Best of success to you all,
    Dr. Linne Bourget, MA MBA Ph.D.
    Fortune 10, 50, 100 Leadership/Change Consultant, Author, Speaker
    Economist, Pioneer, Bottom-LIne Positive Strengths-Based Leadership Systems
    Super Fast Growth and Change without Tears

  • Bob Bucy

    And the #1 consulting answer is – It depends:-)

  • Maggie Nation

    Gotta say, I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with the retail division of Oliver Wyman on two different engagements and can tell you that they said a number of those things to me/the organization. I’ve worked with probably all the “big” consulting firms over many years and O/W is the only firm I’d recommend without reservation – if you, as the client, are open to having questions/statements made like those raised above.

  • Nicholas Alipaz

    This all boils down to truthfulness in a consultant I think. Being a good judge of character is where one can make their best decisions here.

  • mgeraudm

    Love the article!
    Funny how I’ve said everything above! And yes, I do sometimes drive clients bonkers upfront and most of those times they do not get it up until later, and they all end up thanking me.
    Perhaps it is what I learned being an industrial for many years before I turned the table around that gives me a tad bit better perspective of things, just saying, perhaps…

  • Guest

    Success in consulting business is the same as in life: Be genuine and honest in all dealings, personal and professional. I try to abide by these every day. And like DocLinne, I not only say these things, I say them often.

    Jim McHugh
    “Let’s fix your company”

  • Jim McHugh

    Wow, I did not intend to post that HUGE pic of myself in my prior comment !!! Guess I selected the wrong .jpg file. If there is someone monitoring comments who could remove that drawing, I’d appreciate it immensely. If you knew me you’d know I do not like to self-promote in such a HUGE fashion – I am an INTJ – LOL.

    Jim McHugh

    “Let’s fix your company”