I recently sat through a presentation by a number of people from one of the nation's top consulting companies. The representatives of this organization all seemed to know their business. However, many of the things they said had a familiar ring. They also used a lot of jargon, which seems to be the hallmark of many consulting companies. Frankly, I was not impressed by what occured.
I don't think it's cynicism on my part. It's just after I have heard the same pitch a number of times from a variety of sources my patience gets a little thin. For instance, the fact that a company has hundreds of people out in the field "consulting" doesn't necessarily mean it's a quality company. Too many companies seem to equate having large numbers of people running around with being successful. I don't see it that way.
In fact, that kind of thinking reminds me of a story that goes back a few years. Maybe you've heard it yourself:
Two hospital CEOs at a seminar found themselves chatting over a cup of coffee about the problems they faced in keeping their institutions viable. Both headed up hospitals of about the same size. At one point, one of the executives mentioned that he had commissioned one of the top consulting firms to do a study for him. His colleague responded that the same firm was preparing a report for him, which he expected any day. The two agreed to exchange reports when they got them.
You probably can guess what's next. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later each CEO read the other's report and, with only minor differences, the reports were the same. That case ended up in court, where the consulting company admitted its culpability and was ordered to pay a heavy settlement to both hospitals.
Now there are a lot of wonderful consultants out there. I know many of them personally and could vouch for their integrity and quality of work. But there are a lot of consultants offering "snake oil" and "glitz."
Today, healthcare organizations deserve first-rate help, which is why it's important to keep several factors in mind when dealing with so-called experts. Don't enter into a relationship with a consulting company until you've checked its references thoroughly.
More important, when you are close to hiring a firm, make sure you get a commitment to have seasoned pros working on your account and not a bunch of new MBAs in training. Earlier this year Fortune magazine did a marvelous job of exposing how some consulting companies use a "bait and switch" tactic to capture new clients. They bring in the A-team to make the sale, then they service the account with third and fourth stringers. It's not ethical and it's not what you need--when you pay top dollar, you should get top-quality work. So if you do hire a consultant, make sure you get what you paid for. Don't settle for anything less.
There's a lot of confusion in healthcare organizations these days, and it's tempting to turn to a so-called expert to guarantee your organization's success. But just because a company is big and its employees talk the lingo of change, that doesn't guarantee quality work.
Above all, make sure you need a consultant before you hire one. Do you really know your mission, vision and values or are you simply searching for easy answers. I'm not sure any consulting firm can help an organization that doesn't understand why it's in business.
Buyer beware, Charles S. Lauer Publisher