Don’t Outsource Your Brain to Consultants

If you have worked in a big company — you can almost smell it in the air. The big boss has some thorny problem or is afraid to actually make an important decision. And rather than digging in and getting bold — here come the consultants. They stroll right on in as if your cube is their house, and they are instantly scheduling clear-your-calendar-and-get-there meetings with you. They are in your business. Literally, they are.  

And these consultants are really hard to get rid of when they show up.

Because the situation is always worse than what they thought coming in. And surely a change order is needed to cover the additional work.

Now, do not get me wrong. There are some great tasks to outsource, or there are other times when you really need an extra pair of deft hands. But have we gone too far? How can a consultant ever understand your business better than you do?

This is nothing new. There have been consultants as long as there have been businesses. I am just pointing out what most of us have experienced and questioning why so many executives get paid the big bucks to hire others to make strategic decisions.

Sure, consultants can bring their expertise and pattern recognition to each company they serve. But more often than not, it is corporate dysfunction that allows them to walk through the door.

They are hired to help make strategic decisions because it’s safer that way. They provide an “objective” point of view and give any smart executive someone to blame when things go sideways. These are the hidden reasons consultants are really hired. It is not always the case, but I have seen these undercurrents nearly every time.

The problem is that when you hire others to do the hard thinking for you, you are handing off more than you might think. You may not realize it, but you are not benefiting from the burdens that you must carry.

You get better by getting challenged, not by sitting on the sidelines while others contend with your work.

When you outsource your brain to consultants, here is what else you are losing:

You lose accountability
When you bring on consultants to do the heavy lifting for you, they are no longer your ideas. And as I have pointed out, often that is the purpose. But if that is not the case, even the ideas that work are not your ideas and you do not feel accountable to them. Their goals are not the same as yours and you will not pursue them with the same vigor.

You lose discipline
You may think that a consultant will make you a sharper decision-maker, but the opposite is true. Farming out your thinking to others will make you lazy. The next time a problem arises, your go-to solution will be to hire another consultant. You are training yourself to take the easy way out. Problem-solving is a discipline that must be exercised often if you want to keep your edge.

You lose confidence
Setting goals and knocking them out builds you and your team’s self-assurance. But if someone else is doing your thinking for you, you will start to question your abilities. After a time, you will forget how you successfully solved hard problems in the past — before the consultant ever came into the picture.

You lose control
Your team needs to know who is in charge. But when you bring in a consultant who has a different style of approaching problems, they will only see the nicely packaged end-result — not your usual messy but brilliant decision-making process. Your team may begin to wonder who is leading: you, or the consultant? Even worse, you may lose their trust when they see you no longer trust yourself.

You lose the reward
The process of thinking through problems through is hard work, and there is no way of getting around it. Sometimes the answers will not fall neatly into place and you need to exercise patience with the process and with yourself. But when you outsource your brain to consultants, you miss out on the struggle and the beautiful solution that can result from it.

When you use consultants to do the hard thinking for you, you lose your brain and you lose your way.

If you are taking on more and more responsibility, remember why. It is unlikely that it is because you sidestep the challenges that matter most to the business. Do not be tempted to outsource your brain to someone else. It will be hard to ever get it or your business back on track.

Has your company ever hired consultants to make key decisions?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. Anonymous

    I’d imagine this post and opinion won’t make you too popular with the consultant community, and not that there aren’t exceptions, but there’s unfortunately much truth in what you say. I’ve watched many of the repercussions you mention unfold at my own workplace(s).

    In my experience ‘leaders’ tend to rely too heavily on consultants for a variety of reasons: too cheap to hire actual full time staff / talent; too short-sighted to professionally develop and provide ongoing education for existing staff so they’re better able to address challenges and opportunities on their own; lack of board / governance oversight, leading to the ‘corporate dysfunction’ you mentioned; and a failure or inability to recognize when the needs of the leadership role exceed the abilities of the existing leader — and that it may be time for that person to step back and let new talent take the helm. It’s also worth mentioning that many of the issues that arise when working with consultants result from a lack of project focus and a failure to appropriately guide and ‘supervise’ the consultant’s work.

  2. Scott Seiden

    Consultants, in many but certainly not all cases, bring an extremely valuable third-party perspective and value add. Good consultants share and contribute and don’t seek to take all of the credit or blame. They act like employees and an extension of your company and functional specialty or team. There are equally as many dangers to creating an insular and exclusive company culture as there are to “outsourcing your brain.” Until you’ve lived and worked on both sides of the aisle for considerable periods of time, probably best not to judge or alarm others. Consultants can know your business better than you because some have surely been down your path before and faced the problems and issues you face. Granted, you should know your business strategy and be passionate about owning it. Nice catchy headline though. You clearly don’t need any marketing consultants. What does your cute dog wearing sunglasses have to do with this subject? Is your dog a consultant? Or vice-versa?

  3. Barbara R Saunders

    Some of this can be solved by not hiring the same people who make diagnoses to also design and implement the solution for the problem they diagnose.


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