In my last post, I shared the top five critical attributes of a consulting firm that help drive successful engagements for clients. Naturally, we also must discuss the five most common struggles experienced when working with external advisory consultants.
- Sales vs. Service Mentality
The most common struggles healthcare organizations report having with consulting firms stem from a “sales-over-service” mentality. This typically results in firms focusing more on getting business than on providing the right resources.
Clients’ perception of a firm being “salesy” often stems from unclear scopes and inflexible, vague contract terms. However, the number one complaint about such firms arise from their tendency to upsell clients.
“We struggle with firms that are very aggressive in their approach to get our business… They call themselves experts but don’t really want to commit to saying anything meaningful for fear of being held responsible for it. When I call consultants, I want their opinions and… I want their expertise, but many times, their expertise is missing in the dialogue.”
“Sometimes we bring in a firm and ask for an orange, but then we get a banana. Sometimes we don’t even get a fruit; we get a vegetable.”
- Lack of Experience, Knowledge, and Skills
The second most frequently mentioned pain point for healthcare organizations occurs when consultants on a project are inexperienced, lack the skills needed for the job, or are otherwise not the right fit.
“I am bothered by low-quality consultants. The engagement loses a ton of value when I can’t trust a firm and I have to watch and vet their consultants… I want to hire a firm that will monitor their own consultants and that will find the right resources for me rather than just sending me bodies to fill slots.”
- A Cookie-Cutter Approach and Lack of Partnership
A third common struggle healthcare organizations encounter is firms that come in with predisposed agendas, formulaic approaches, and an inability or unwillingness to listen to or adapt to customers’ needs. I am not saying firms shouldn’t start with a proven playbook, but listening to, understanding, and customizing to customers’ unique dynamics, culture, or business needs should come first.
“The struggles we encounter most often with consulting firms are generic models, templates, and strategies that are recycled. Healthcare is very local, and firms have to be careful about being conflicted.”
“When a firm comes into a market where they have not worked before and throws a generic approach at a customer, the customer spends a ton of time getting the firm to pay attention and develop a set of recommendations tailored to their situation.”
“One problem is the rigidity of some consultants. Sometimes, consultants believe they know us so well that they aren’t willing to listen to us. They have their own ideas about who we are and what we need.”
- Not Delivering on Promised Outcomes
The opposite of firms that keep their promises and demonstrate integrity are firms that overpromise and under-deliver. Some the larger consulting firms who are most mentioned for being able to partner with clients are also cited for overpromising and under-delivering in terms of both outcomes and timelines, leading clients to feel they haven’t received the expected value from their engagements.
“We struggle with firms that overpromise and under-deliver. It should be pretty simple; the firm just has to tell me exactly what they can do and then do it. They shouldn’t make promises they can’t keep. No one wins in that case.”
- Lack of Additional Value and Insight
Lastly, healthcare organizations say they encounter struggles when firms fail to be strategic and provide additional value and insight. This happens when firms fail to transfer knowledge, gain trust and buy-in from key stakeholders, establish good communication and relationships with staff and executives, or get on the same page as the client regarding the engagement’s scope.
“Consultants feel they have the most knowledge when they come in, and they are putting out fires, meaning that sometimes they start bossing the regular staff members around. Then our staff members feel like they have a worthless job, and they don’t get to participate in anything new because the consultants take over.”
“The right consultants are knowledge-transfer mentors who provide support and then go away. We don’t want frontline people. The consultants are either backfilling positions or have a specific skill that we don’t have yet.”
My hope in presenting these gloomy findings isn’t to discourage, but rather to deliver helpful insights from the healthcare organizations I’ve spoken with — insights that shed some light on potholes to watch out for or even avoid altogether. Providers can do this by focusing on transparent communication between themselves and consulting firms, and setting proper expectations before an engagement commences.
In the next and final blog in this series, I will share my excitement on the future outlook of consulting, including the emerging needs and top-of-mind upcoming projects for healthcare organizations.