I have now been an independent consultant for ten years. Before that, I used to procure technical consultancy as part of my R&D management role, and I also worked alongside a number of business consultancy organisations we engaged for specific change projects.

From these experiences, I have formed the view that consultants have one of two objectives that determine their approach to the job. The first is that of transferring their expertise to the client’s organisation, such that people within that organisation progressively learn to do more for themselves. This is usually what the client thinks they are paying for. The second is that of creating an ongoing dependence on the consultancy in order to service what they have embedded in the organisation, rather than transferred to it. Where these two objectives conflict, one of them wins.

The inclination to work in the second mode increases with the size of the consultancy organisation. While a multi-disciplined consultancy can realistically look for follow-on projects with the client in new areas of activity rather than on existing topics (given good performance so far), it is common for them to offer proprietary systems and products that tie the client in to an ongoing relationship. There are, after all, many “mouths to feed” in a big consultancy. Sometimes this is truly value-adding over the long term, but in other cases the consultants are just feathering their own nests. Don’t sell a small project when a big one will do.

Well, my consultancy business is – me. I’ve very occasionally retained a sub-contractor, but never aimed to grow to the point where I employed other people. So for me it can be – and is – quite straightforward. My aim is to transfer what I know to the people I am working with, so that they can use that knowledge for themselves when I’m not there any more. If in future they want more help, that’s fine, and I certainly appreciate those clients that have kept coming back. However, I know they don’t do it because I left a hole the last time that only I could fill. They do it because I added value with no strings attached.

I can go to sleep at night knowing I have given value for money, and worked in my clients’ interests just as well as my own.