When Management Won't Hear the Truth: A Dialogue
A consultant writes: "I find that when I tell management the truth of what a task will take, they can't hear it. In fact, my diagnosis has sometimes meant the end of the interview. But it seems to me if I take a job without giving them my honest assessment, then I'm signing up to do something I can't do."
Jerry: I've often had this experience, with several different outcomes:
1. I don't get the job.
2. I get the job because, they say, "you're the only one who told us the truth."
3. They say, "Look, we just want to get CMMI certified. [or whatever] Show us the minimum we can do to fool the assessors." I leave.
4. I don't get the job. Somebody else lies to them, and X months later, they client comes back to me and says, "They lied to us, and it didn't work the way they said. You told us the truth, so we want you." Sometimes I come back. Sometimes I'm too busy. But if I come back, they're much better listeners the second time.
The consultant also wrote: "Another consultant, working for a large firm, told me that in some cases they do whatever the client wants and don't let it bother them if it blows up. They send an invoice, say 'well, we did what you wanted,' and move on. But I can't imagine myself taking this route, either. I'd like to know how other people deal with situations like this."
Jerry: You could do this if you had employees on the payroll that you had to farm out on billable hours. That's why I never had employees who had to be billed out, and why I always kept up my personal savings so that I, myself, didn't have to be billed out. Like you, I could never say, 'well, I did what you wanted,' and therefore could never work for a company that did. So, I'm not dependent on a company, and no employees are dependent on me. That's essential if I'm to be an honest consultant, and that's important to me.
The consultant further wrote: "Currently, I'm taking a university course called 'Ethical Decision Making for Leaders.' Our first paper is to be a case study of an ethical dilemma we've faced in our careers. I chose to discuss a job in which I was hired as project manager over a troubled product line, only to realize far too late that those in power did not want a solution as much as they wanted an excuse. My group and I were making some real positive change when I was tarred, feathered, and run out of town -- not by the systems engineers and consultants who had to deal with the angry customers (they loved what we were doing), but by the management in R&D above me. That company no longer exists -- a huge company acquired what was left. The incompetents at the top most responsible moved over to executive positions at the acquiring company. Over two-thirds of the rest lost their jobs at the time when the IT industry tanked (about five years ago).
Jerry: That's usually the (wrong) way these things are handled--bottom up--probably because it's the executives who are making the deal.
Finally, the consultant says: I've been through experiences similar to this so many times that I've wondered whether I'm really cut out for this kind of consulting work.
Jerry: The fact that you've weathered these situations means that you're as cut out for this kind of consulting work as much as anyone. Over time, you may get better at seeing these situations coming, so you don't get hooked into so many of them. That's one of the big things I'm trying to teach my readers. And a big part of being able to do this is financial independence.
Thanks for letting me quote you on my Secrets of Consulting blog. This is one of a handful of really essential topics for consultants of all kinds.