How to be a crappy consultant, in five easy steps

I have just started a new position in Guatemala, and it involves getting to know an international organization with a huge range of evaluation needs.  I don’t anticipate feeling fully comfortable with my position for another 6 months.  It’s a permanent position (not a consultancy), but this limbo period has still called into memory the most difficult consultant I’ve ever worked with, in a humble attempt to make sure I don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Many of us have worked with, or perhaps we have even been (gasp!) the annoying consultant who walks into an organization and is just miserable to work with.  Trying not to be that person requires identifying what they’re doing wrong.  So here we go.  Top five ways to be a crappy consultant (for all of your humbling needs):

  1. Argue over the terms of your contract after you read and signed it.  Sure, the organization knows exactly what they expect to get from your work. But they don’t know exactly how to run an entire evaluation system like you do.  Think of the terms of the contract as the ramblings of a poor, misguided pseudo-manager. A set of mild suggestions, really. They’re only there to be critiqued during the entirety of your consultancy.  Make sure to say “this is unreasonable” a hundred times.
  2. Use the consultancy as your pet project.  You’re awesome at diff-in-diff. Is the organization small? Yes. Does the length of your consultancy period allow you to collect data at multiple time points with meaningful intervals?  No.  Would they benefit more from focus group data to start their evaluation system in the right direction?  Well, yes.  But you’re awesome at diff-in-diff! Ignore the rest.
  3. Have an epiphany that changes the entire organizational structure. Bonus points if you do it within the first week that you arrive. Listen, they’re doing everything wrong and they need to know that.  Insist that things change, now.  Remind them that you’re the expert.
  4. If things don’t change, blame a cultural clash.  Even if you’re an American working in an American organization in America.  The culture in that organization is difficult and you never put flexibibility as a trait on your resume, so it’s not your responsibility to work within that preposterous environment.  Throw a fit and threaten to leave.
  5. Exploit everything about it. Take pictures with the poor people and put it as your LinkedIn photo (oh my- you look so handsomely selfless!).  Deliver the results in a nice one-pager (preferably late) but keep the data for yourself.  Make this consultancy more about what you can put on your resume, and less about how you can contribute to the organization’s ability to making lasting impact.

Voilà!  You’re miserable to work with.

But here’s to the rest of them: for all those consultants who are actually helping us make progress in this world, thanks for not being so crappy.  And for those in charge of hiring them, here are some tips to get the good apples.  Or, while we’re at it- should you even hire one?


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