A: I’m a business consultant, I help companies save money.
“Oh, I see, you’re one of those guys . . . . .”
And the conversation ends.
Sometimes I think I should just answer; “I sell broken down used cars to little old ladies”. The response couldn’t be any less enthusiastic, or more terminal. Of course the reputation was long in the making. Process re-engineering, down-sizing and right-sizing all seemed to point in the same direction for almost two decades. RIF (reduction in force) was an easy, quick-fix to cutting expenditures. Hilarious movies like “Office Space” with the hatchet man team of “the Two Bobs” did nothing to dispel the impression that consultants are head count guys either.
All things considered, head count consulting is the product of two major forces. One is that many work forces were/are egregiously inflated, and making head count cuts is the brain- dead solution any consultant would be remiss not to make. Second is the fact that there is no quicker solution to cost reduction than “not buyin’ any”. Last we checked, labor costs are a pretty significant part of most corporate ledgers.
Still, there was/is a human element to RIF consulting that left a bitter, even indigestible taste in the mouths of the workforce. Those that lost jobs were subject to the painful transition of being disenfranchised. Those who were left in place absorbed the additional workload and lived with cliché’s such as “work smarter, not harder” as their corporate mantra. Perhaps worse than layoffs was the indignity of “posting” for one’s existing job.
RIF consulting left an ugly mark on consultants’ altogether; even those, like me, who never recommended workforce changes as a solution.
So how do we scrub away the gruesome specter of the “hatchet man”, at a time when RIF is still a fact of life? When the staff cuts are at the behest of employers; and there are no consultants recommending the tough choices.
It doesn’t help that there are consulting firms out there who assist companies in handling RIF, either.
But there is hope to dispel the challenge of a negative first impression. For me, it’s been a simple addition to my one line job description. “I help companies save money, without cutting staff”. Taken a step further, it’s the addition of text to marketing materials, PowerPoint presentations, and written correspondence altogether.
Still, nothing works more effectively than human reinforcement. Merely marketing the anti-RIF approach is the first of many steps to reinforce the approach. It’s important that consultants alleviate the angst of the middle-managers and line in order to foster the atmosphere in which success is possible. Too often, the mid and line level touch points are ignored in favor of C-level relationships.
The moral to the story; send the message early, often and to as many as will listen. Beating the RIF rap is no easy task. If you’re so fortunate to be able to take the anti-Rif stance, use it your full advantage.
It’s nice to be the good guy for a change.