Consultants Borrow Your Watch to Tell You the Time and Then Walk Off With Your Watch

“Consultants borrow your watch to tell you the time, and then walk off with your watch”. So said Robert Townsend, a former CEO of Avis, in his no-nonsense observation on management sillyness – Up the Organization…

This is often interpreted as meaning that consultants will question you and your colleagues, capture your knowledge, and then not adequately document and share with you what they’ve learnt. Or that consultant’s do not themselves actually have useful knowledge to share. Or that if they do, they are going to be very careful about sharing their knowledge asset with you in a way that would reduce your dependence upon them.  And when it all goes wrong, who is it that gets blamed? You do, for not controlling them properly.

Many people believe that this problem is as relevant today as when Townsend made his widely accepted observation. And the catalogue of disasters and frustrations suggest this is so. But there are consultants out there who have overcome this problem, consultants who offer a high quality service and get used again and again because they have addressed this most fundamental of problems. How do these ‘good consultants’ do it?

First, if ‘good consultants’ have real knowledge to donate, then they externalise it in a way that stays with their client when they leave – the knowledge is codified. Second, if they don’t have the knowledge themselves then they facilitate the client to externalise what they really know but can’t easily verbalise – again the knowledge is codified. And if they are working on information systems, they make sure it’s very clear WHAT needs to be done, HOW and WHY – again the knowledge is codified.

And if you contact us, we can give you a list of consultants that can be relied upon to be ‘good consultants’ – they won’t borrow your watch to tell you the time, and they won’t walk off with your watch!

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