Can I borrow your watch?


Have you ever heard the sarcastic line about the role of a consultant, where the client hires the consultant to tell the time, and the consultant asks “Can I borrow your watch?”. This goes along with the attitude of “I hired you to fix my problems, not ask a lot of questions”

These situations refer to the dilemma faced by both clients and consultants. In order to do a good job, a consultant needs to ask a lot of questions. However, most clients just want their problem solved; Like many medical patients who just want a cure without the lengthy and uncomfortable diagnosis, and most dieters want to have lost weight without the change in lifestyle needed to lose the weight. And often clients don’t want to hear the questions, because the questions reveal the answers that will follow.

Problems do indeed arise when a consultant’s expertise or services are mismatched for the assignment, the client has unrealistic expectations about what it takes to solve their problem(s); the engagement is inaccurately assessed and scoped; the client is needy and impatient, the client is looking for an expert in a particular field, industry or niche and the consultant lacks the specific knowledge and needs to learn the client’s business before be being able to advise the client,. and more.

But perhaps more than any other problem facing clients and their consultants is the natural dilemma inherent in the consulting process itself, in that it is complex, often mutlispciplinary and each client is different. The process of assessment and due diligence in order to provide competent advise is often rigorous and time consuming, and must extract information from the client which may seem obvious to the client (because they live in it every day) but must be unpacked by the consultant. Clients don’t like to pay for the unpacking stage, and they generally don’t like the complexity that is inherent in the process and they don’t like the discomfort associated with the poking, probing and discovery it takes in order to do a thorough job.

Much of the responsibility lies in the hands of the consultant, in properly assessing their clients needs, as well as managing expectations, and assisting the client with the inevitable discomfort along the way.

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