Consultancies or agencies, call them what you will, professional services even, and I’m speaking from my own perspective of working before they arrive into organizations and sometimes alongside them in some cases and also after they’ve been into organizations.
So from speaking with many of my peers, it’s often seen as the big consultancies, they arrive into the businesses, they assume total knowledge, then they proceed to act like a flock of white-shirted eagles circling a carcass in the wild, all here to feed, do their job and retreat. Now when you have this type of model in play, you end up with not only people retreating, but also the IP leaves the room and the organizational culture and the subcultures are often damaged. Now the lack of ownership, the lack of trust and authority is something that needs to be considered and the lack of knowledge and the lack of IP that retains and the organization is often missed.
The organization resembles less of a structure and at the end of it it looks more like a mud hut. And that’s more frequent. These consultancies continue to work in this way and I believe there’s a behavioural problem in the play where the bottom line of profit is driving everything. The organization is asking for one thing, they don’t really know what they don’t know. And what we really need is probably a few others to accompany that, such as cultural evaluation, skills assessment and a review of internal behaviours to allow for the internal champions to prosper. Now it’s the equivalent of having a great big hotel with a team of chefs that are ready to cook. But the management keep ordering takeaway for all the guests. It’s quicker, it’s cheaper and the guests or customers aren’t too impressed. They feel we’ve cheated, they were promised all this wonderful food on the website, and pretty soon the chefs forget how to cook and over time the cooking methods have become outdated and pretty soon even the ovens stop working and then they have to go and buy new ovens. But by this stage the chefs are ready to retire and they can’t even operate them.
So I guess my point is, I want to clarify that, I’m not saying that consultants and consultancies are bad. I’m focusing on the engagement model. So what are your thoughts on this?
Well, I really like the Ramsay’s kitchen nightmare connotations there.
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You know, this is not just isolated to returning to Ireland. I saw it in Australia and I’ve seen it in America. It’s something that I’ve… you know, the consultancies come in, businesses believe that they’re paying the top dollar, so they want to get the best results, they’re going to get the best services. And that’s not always the case. And you know, too often I’ve come into organizations and they’re like, oh, we’ve had a big consultancy in here. They’ve done the work, they think it’s great. And then you’d look at it, you’re kind of to go, I don’t know what to do with this. So there’s no continuation of that knowledge stream, it hasn’t filtered back into the organization and the organizations don’t know what to do.
Do you know what, I couldn’t agree with you more, Scully and I, I don’t like agreeing with you to this extent, but you know, it has to be part of the DNA of your organization. Buying in that expertise, I mean, I know that there are times when you need to do it right for a multiplicity of reasons, but you have to have user centred design or design thinking or whatever you want to call it, it has to be part of your corporate DNA and your can’t just buy it in, you know, like CRISPR, You can’t just sort of plug it into your DNA and then pull it out when you’re done and pretend that you’ve achieved something beyond your immediate goal.
I’m not disagreeing with myself here, but when you look at it from the consultancies’ perspective, an organization comes to them, they say, we need you to do this. What are they expected to do, kind of go, “Oh, we’re not gonna do it.” And like, I think there’s an opportunity there to reframe it and say, you know, we can do this, but we also want to make sure that you are going to be self-sufficient moving forward. That’s not happening. You know what I mean? I see consultancies coming in, they work to the SOW [statement of work] and then at the very end of it they’d leave. And too often the people that are left in the business, they feel cheated because they’re like, well I could have done that myself. But they just wanted to get the consultancy and, and the consultancy’s done it. Now I don’t know how to do it because they wouldn’t show me the code or they wouldn’t show me the knowledge, they wouldn’t show me the research. So they’ve got no power. They’ve been disempowered by the presence of this consultancy that comes into the organization. So yeah, these are the things that I’m seeing. I’m not trying to pitch myself, but like any of the type of work that I like to do is go in and, you know, become partners and help build the team, build the capability. And you know, I remember I spoke to Sarah Drummond in Snook and she agrees like that’s one of the, one of the mantras for her organization in Scotland and London is to go in and build that capability so they can be self sufficient in the future. I don’t want to get the call back in two years’ time saying, hey listen, we need you to do another piece of work. They should be able to do this themselves. We should be working towards that.
It’s an ethical question as well, isn’t it? I mean good ethics would say that a consultancy should come in and help the organization not only to deliver their short term goals, but to develop and to grow. And if the consultancy doesn’t have that as part of their engagement, then it’s probably not the right consultancy to call in.
There’s a couple of factors at play there. One of them is the way a lot of large organizations are financially structured that they can’t take on new overhead, but they have budgets to outsource or to bring in, you know, third party or independent. In a lot of big organizations I find are very, very small teams but have significant budgets that they can spend on ad agencies or marketing agencies. So they’re in a very difficult situation because they simply will not be allowed to hire the resource within the organization. But having said that, they’re more in the minority now. I do see a shift over the last five or seven years where organizations really are beginning to build up their design teams and their internal skillsets. I think that’s a major shift. And what you said there, Scully, about, you know, building up capacities, I mean, design agencies that I’m talking to now or UX consultanices are telling me they’re doing more of that, you know, building up capacities and skill sets rather than doing work. So there’s, there’s a lot of stress in… maybe not the big consultancy agencies, but certainly in the UX consultancies where it’s, you know, it’s harder to get work in some ways, you know that, that traditional type of do a project, because a lot of organizations have really accepted a need to build up the capacity, but then you’ve got these other, as I said, strange organizations which have absolute obsession with head count and yet have budget to spend. And it’s hard to build up a capacity in an organization like that because there’s nobody to build it up with.
Yeah. But it’s also like the increased desire to go quickly and run quickly and get the thing done as quickly as possible because the bottom line is driving that speed and they’re working too quickly too often to spend the time to nurture that learning to be transferred to other people.
And like in the organizations, they’re not doing the workshops, they’re not doing those hand-offs to ensure that like, you know, okay, well look, we might need to be here for another three months because there doesn’t seem to be, you know, a grasp of being able to do qualitative research but we’re going to help you do that so in the future you’re going to be able to do the next one and so forth. It’s almost as if the consultancies are coming in and the businesses are buying that service to reduce risk and like, you know, ironically, by doing that, they’re increasing the risk in the long term.
Yeah. To reframe it Scully a little bit, and, you know, I agree with what you’re saying, but it’s almost as if what’s needed, because you know, the big consultancies and the little consultancies, they’ve got their own economic drivers and are their own reasons for behaving in the way they do. And it may be ethical or unethical or whatever, but really it comes down to if the organization hiring that consulting agency has got a capability to be sufficiently sophisticated in their brief and in their tendering process to actually go out into the market and get an agency that will actually serve their needs. So maybe it’s about, you know, another way of looking at it is ensuring that the organization that needs the work has got the ability to specify exactly what they want from an agency and choose the agency, the consultancy accordingly.