Consultants Are Outsiders: Deal With It.
It’s generally considered good to be an insider. Whether you’re ‘in the loop’ on what’s going on, or have access to the ‘inner circle’; we all seem to like being an insider. Consultants are by nature, outsiders. They are often hired by clients to provide an outsider’s view, a fresh perspective, unburdened by the politics, cynical attitudes and prejudices that are ingrained with tenured client employees. That’s the upside of being an outsider.
Outsiders are Rarely Welcome
The downside is developing credibility and acceptance with a team of client employees. A team of workers is much like a family. They may not always get along or even like each other all that much. But outsiders are rarely welcome to come in and disrupt their culture and norms.
I’ve kicked off projects in which I’ve had to field questions and comments such as: “I don’t know why you are implementing this new system, the old system works just fine.”
“You are going to make all of our positions redundant or outdated. You’ll go on to your next client and we’ll all end up at the unemployment line.”
Those are legitimate concerns. Consultants are agents of change. They are charged with providing expertise to their clients to increase productivity. That can be achieved through the design of new processes that make a company more productive, or by implementing new technologies with which the client’s current staff is unfamiliar.
Resistance to Consultants
Either of these can create redundancies or obsolescence of staff members. I’ve always believed that it’s the responsibility of the employee to keep himself from becoming obsolete and the responsibility of the client to find new roles for valuable employees if their existing role is made unnecessary by technology. It doesn’t always work that way. Because of that, client employees are resistant to outsider consultants, resistant to their ideas and resistant to the changes they implement. That can make it difficult for consultants to develop a rapport with client staff.
The consultant can begin to make inroads by sharing information. If new approaches or technologies are being introduced, helping the staff come up to speed on them is a good start. It’s unlikely that everyone will come on board all at once. Start small, developing rapport with one or two key people. Once people see that you’re willing to help, more of them may start to come around. It doesn’t happen overnight and you may never win everyone over.
Don’t Get Too Close
A successful consultant should try to strike a balance. Become enough of an insider to develop trust and rapport with the team so that you can get things done without too much resistance. But remain enough of an outsider that you don’t get caught up in political maneuvering and avoid other detrimental side effects of getting too close to your clients.
Some consultants hate being outsiders. They’re uncomfortable with the feeling of distrust and alienation. Good consultants develop immunity to it and learn how to break down the barriers enough to make it an advantage rather than a detriment.