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Over the last six months I’ve received a lot of direct and indirect commentary on perceptions of the consulting industry among Steeves Advisory’s clients. To say the least, much of what I’ve heard has not been flattering.

Many clients have the perception that consulting is a winner take-all game, that consultants charge exorbitant fees and sneak extra fat into projects in order to drive up budgets. I’ve seen clients minimize the role of their consulting teams out of a sense that effective information transfer can always take place through email and documentation. The intent is efficiency, but the outcome is the reverse. Over-reliance on written information leads to false assumptions and informational gaps, and makes it difficult to storm and norm with – albeit temporary – members of your team.

I often find myself fighting the urge to jump in with a defense of consultants I’ve worked with, or a few facts about Steeves Advisory’s costs and rates. But in the end, I remain silent – assuming that no one really wants to think differently about consultants anyway, and that what might be well intentioned information sharing on my part could, in the end, make the situation more awkward. Plus, we’ve all met some version of Marty Kahn in our careers, and while “Kahns” aren’t the norm their existence is undeniable.

In the end I’m left wondering how to build awareness and acceptance in our client organizations about the consulting business model, rates, and value-add. How can we establish trust that our ethics, intentions, and contributions are aligned with those of our clients? My vision is of a collaborative team in which our organizations make each other better, and work together out of mutual respect and appreciation. Without this foundation, we can never escape the dynamics of competition, and everyone stands to lose.

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