why do companies fall for grifter “consultants”?

A reader writes:

My partner, “Bob,” works in a marketing role (covering everything from social media to events) for a mid-sized, non-corporate, creative company.

One of the company’s owners, “Billy,” is a micromanager and cannot delegate even the most minor task to any of the hundreds of staff. For example, he demands to be informed of details as trivial as when the water cooler is replaced in one of several branches.

When Bob started working there, Billy asked him to send plans for every task and social media post for the first month to ensure he understood the brand voice. He also asked him to copy him into every email. This seems reasonable for a few weeks to ensure a new hire is a good fit, but he demands Bob continue to do this over a year into the role — including copying him into every email! He also asks for similar behavior from other staff.

But the thing is, he never reads emails from anyone! In person, he claims to have reviewed and approved plans for events, promotional materials, etc. But then he suddenly demands extensive changes once these projects are about to go live or external design companies have completed things like event posters. In addition, he regularly changes details in social media posts and then forgets, all of which causes problems for or undermines other projects.

We recently went on holiday for two weeks, and Bob worked 9 am till 9 pm for a week, ensuring all of his duties were covered, posts scheduled, and several events or projects had people covering them. While we were away, Billy suddenly started doing things like demanding to review leaflets for an event and cancelling the print job. Or he wanted to change an event date at the last minute. Billy does this all the time, but without Bob to smooth these things over, things fell apart.

Needless to say, Billy’s behavior makes Bob’s job much more difficult and stressful. Equally, because of these last-minute interferences, Bob can never have events or projects organized in advance; he is constantly reacting to Billy-caused disaster, despite multiple attempts to discuss this or suggest alternative ways of working together.

While we were on holiday and these two minor internal projects fell apart, Billy suddenly hired a former colleague, “Joe,” to work as a consultant to “help organize things around here.”

Billy has a history of abruptly hiring acquaintances or associates like this, and they never work out. For example, he hired a PR guy last year who failed to invite anyone to press events and didn’t know how to use Google Calendar(…). Joe seems to be on the same track.

It seems Joe has only worked for poorly performing “competitors” — same industry but very different niches. He makes bizarre and highly impractical suggestions for working methods or projects, which show he hasn’t researched the company and has little understanding of the entire industry. In meetings, he regularly brings up incredibly basic tasks he completed in former roles as major achievements. On a similar level to saying, “When I worked at X, I found it really increased productivity when I changed from blue pens to black pens.”

So far, he has asked Bob to spend days copying everything from the software and platforms everyone in the company uses (Google Calendar, etc.) to Trello, and suggested simplistic or even out-of-date and incorrect social media strategies. Nevertheless, Billy thinks he is a genius. For example, in a recent meeting, Joe wrote the days of the week on a sheet of paper and said, “What if we posted a picture of (the product we sell) to Instagram on these days.” Billy replied, “This is what I want to see, I love it!”

Bob pushes back and explains that these things are already ongoing or why certain suggestions aren’t appropriate for the company, but is understandably completely demoralized. He feels undermined and miserable, and it’s only been a few weeks.

Bob has successfully worked in this field for almost a decade. His current boss poached him for this role, and by all accounts (his other boss, colleagues, industry partners, job offers!), achievements and metrics, he has been doing a great job. So this move by his boss seems super condescending and insulting.

While Bob isn’t shy and is an excellent communicator, he’s not a loudly outgoing person — he doesn’t shout from the rooftops about his achievements. (He certainly doesn’t brag about changing from blue to black pens!) However, I hear his work calls when he works from home; he speaks confidently and clearly and is a decisive problem solver.

I have repeatedly seen this happen in companies where I have worked or where my friends and family work. I once chickened out of sending an email to you about a similar consultant who caused my company to lose a deal worth millions and then blamed it on a colleague. Consultants come in, have no clue, make inane and inappropriate suggestions, switch everyone to a management system no one uses, undermine or interfere with projects, and then quietly disappear or burn out.

I suppose I’m here to ask what Bob should do. He knows his boss is a nighmare and he shouldn’t take it personally, but it still sucks because he loves this industry and he positives outweighed the negatives of his boss in this role.

However, I think my main question is, why do bosses always fall for these consultant con artists?

Not every boss does fall for bad consultants — Billy is a particularly bad boss and Joe is a particularly bad consultant. You already know Billy has terrible judgment, so it’s no surprise that he’s bonding with someone who’s terrible too.

But there is a broader pattern of organizations hiring consultants who come in and either (a) offer one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t fit the context they’re supposed to be working in (because they don’t take the time to understand the nuance of the organization’s work) or (b) make the same suggestions that people working there have been making for years. In the latter case, the employer often embraces those ideas when a consultant suggests them, after having ignored the exact same feedback from employees. That happens so often it’s a basically a universally recognized truism about consultants. Some of that is due to companies believing that consultants have special expertise that their employees don’t so their suggestions carry more weight (when it should often be the other way around), and some of it is that often when companies pay an outsider handsomely to examine and solve Issue X, they’re more likely to take what they say seriously.

That doesn’t sound like what’s happening with Billy and Joe though. They just sound like they’re both incompetent, and incompetence attracts incompetence.

Has Bob considered moving on to a job with a less frustrating boss?

{ 179 comments… read them below }

  1. NoviceManagerGuy*

    I’ve found it really helped sales on Friday when I started making posts on Thursday, instead of scheduling all my posts for Shmursday.

  2. Sunny*

    I have to wonder what the upsides are of this job, given that it sounds like Bob can’t actually execute most functions of his job. And if this pattern continues, will Bob have achievements to show when he does finally move on? I’d be seriously questioning my future with this company – and my ability to succeed – under a boss like this.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Bob’s boss sucks and will never change. The consultant is a symptom of that, not the problem. I recommend Bob taking advantage of the hiring environment and go somewhere that is competently managed.

      1. Lizard on a Chair*

        ” The consultant is a symptom of that, not the problem.”

        THIS. The LW mentioned that Bob was poached for this job and has received other offers, so…time to start interviewing! The “positives” can’t make up for an incompetent boss who undermines your success, especially as it sounds like much of Bob’s output is public-facing and this could damage his own professional reputation.

      2. Certaintroublemaker*

        Yes, time to leave, and leave a VERY clear exit interview message. “I loved this company, my boss, my colleagues, and my work. But Billy’s micromanagement, interference, and incompetence made it impossible for me to do my job.”

      3. Books and Cooks*

        By the end of the fourth paragraph, I was totally expecting to see the line, “Bob’s boss sucks and will never change,” in Alison’s response.

        I wonder if it might be worth it for Bob to talk to the other owners–it sounds as if there are several, and at least one of them actively recruited Bob and thus will hopefully take his issues seriously. But unless they are willing to take oversight of Marketing away from Billy completely, then yeah, Bob needs to start looking. It sounds like Billy’s incompetence and poor management is (or could eventually) negatively impacting the company’s marketing and bottom line, and Bob does not want to be the one getting the blame for that.

      1. Vio*

        ideally Billy should be looking for a new job. but it is sadly more realistic for Bob to do so

    2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      You can’t continue to work under a Billy. He is either clueless about basics of planning, or else he has Savior Complex. Either way, he will continue to ruin everything you try to do and blame you for it. It’s a miserable situation and it will suck out your soul.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Yes, what is Bob actually able to accomplish here? This position doesn’t sound to me like a career builder.

      Often when we’re unhappy, we zoom in on peripheral stuff and not on the main problem. The consultant is a peripheral issue. The real issue is that Bob’s manager is incompetent, and incompetent in ways that will make it hard for Bob to advance his career.

      While OP says that Bob sees “positives” in his role, it would take a whole hell of a lot of “positives” to make up for the stress and the career damage. Time to update the resume and start looking.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Yes, this reminds me a lot of the letter last week about “how do I talk to my boss about his ridiculously inaccurate org chart” — the org chart is not the problem! Here, similarly, the consultant isn’t the core problem; the problem is that Billy doesn’t know what he’s doing but also can’t give up enough control to let an employee who does know what they’re doing handle it. That probably makes him susceptible to being snowed by a bad consultant, because he’s desperate for someone he does see as “an expert” to tell him what he’s supposed to be doing, but he would still be causing basically all the same problems even if he’d never met Joe.

    4. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I’d like to see Alison create a new category for letters like this. Call it, “Why hasn’t this person left yet?” Because after reading through all that (which was…entertaining), that’s the only question I have.

      1. Waving not Drowning*

        I’ve been in the work situation that looking back I go why the hell didn’t I leave earlier – and – its in part you don’t realise how batshit crazy it is until you leave, and, sometimes its better to have a crappy job that you know, rather than starting fresh and potentially getting somewhere worse. Also its hard to put your energy into job searching when you are struggling to get through each day – there is part of you that thinks that yeah, they are right, I am crap at my job which is why I need the constant micromanaging.

        The last two times I escaped from crappy roles – I’ve been lucky enough to transfer into new departments, so still keep my benefits (we are exceedingly well paid for the area) Neither time I was actively looking, but had put the word out that I was looking for a change in one case, and then the first opportunity lead to being visible for the second role. Neither role was actively advertised, and in both cases I could be temporarily transferred until it became permanent. But, if it hadn’t happened, I’d probably still be in the crappy role because I was managing to deal with the crappiness part of it and focus on the bits I did like about it.

      2. Saraquill*

        I stayed in a bad job for months until they laid me off. I was looking for work, but it’s hard to get the energy when you spend hours in a toxic space. Plus I didn’t want to leave the frying pan to enter the fire. I turned down a job offer during this time as the pay and hours weren’t good.

  3. JessieJ*

    Thing rang many bells for me. I’m not sure what else to do other than search for a new company that will love having a social media manager and trust they know their field. It’s a funny area that many businesses owners don’t have full experience in but may want to oversee and sometimes too heavily. Good luck!!!

  4. calvin blick*

    I’m sure there are some bad consultants, but a little while ago we had a couple come by the office and had some great conversations about chain of command and employee motivation. They even said I was a “straight shooter with upper management written all over him”, and I ended up getting a big promotion! There were some layoffs that went very poorly (in fact the company went out of business shortly thereafter), but I blame that on the divisional VP. All this gave me the motivation I needed to get out of the software industry into a career in the construction field that I enjoy much more. I still keep in touch with my old friends from work though and overall everything seemed to work out for everyone involved (in fact one of the laid off folks must have gotten a great severance package because last I heard he was spending all his time on the beach).

    1. Leems*

      *snort* Recognized it in two lines, while adjusting my radio to a reasonable volume . . .

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        We actually had consultants named Robert and Bob once. I made a Bobs joke and they quoted an Office Space line back at me, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and they provided our department with some really good feedback (no layoffs).

        Consultants tend to love me because I *am* a straight shooter (already in upper management). I often get invited back for a second meeting.

    2. The Jobless Wonder*

      Mmm, yeah, I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree.

      The consultants said he was a “straight shooter with upper management written all over him,” but he wouldn’t come into work on Saturday and there were always problems with his TPS reports.

      1. Books and Cooks*

        I’m going to have to let Bob respond to you about that, because I’m too upset to speak.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      Hahaha, I just watched this for the first time last night and I caught so many things that AAM references. It made the movie even more entertaining!

    4. StephChi*

      Haha! I use the line, “Are you working hard, or hardly working?” all the time. I also have fantasies about taking our office equipment to the field across from my school and beating the heck out of it with baseball bats.

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    Incompetence attracts incompetence.

    I think Alison is onto something with this explanation of bee-filled workplaces. People who don’t know what they’re doing are more impressed by a good sales pitch from someone who has only the barest idea what they’re talking about. (For my tangential experience, the new consultant was an old buddy of someone in upper management, and was paid five figures to sit the engineering team down and talk about how to visualize stage 1 of the process when they were on stage 6. He did figure out midway that he was comically far off, but not able to recover and swap into something useful.)

    As ever, don’t get focused on each molehill of dysfunction–the way to change an incompetent boss, who now has added an incompetent consultant over your head, is to go work somewhere else. Take those job offers.

    1. Smithy*

      Absolutely this.

      These kinds of consultant cycles I find most common with either incompetence or efforts to retain control. Like instead of hiring staff at a senior/mid-senior level to design and execute a strategy, a consultant is brought in to design work for junior full time-staff to execute. The workplan may or may not have the input of those junior colleagues and may fail to take the expertise and understanding they do have from their time in the industry and that employer – but it allows whoever hires the consultant to consolidate more power with themselves. If the workplan succeeds – they were the smart person for hiring the consultant. If it fails, it’s the fault of the junior colleagues in how they executed.

      It certainly doesn’t have to workout that way…..but so often it does.

      1. Caliente*

        Idk every company I’ve worked for that brought a consultant in only has the consultants end up saying the same things that the staff that had bern there had bern asking for changes on for years. People actually left over this because it doesn’t make your staff feel valued when they point out things to make things better that are met with NO or even a gentle so hee can’t do that- for years- and then a consultant you paid $5k to for a week who ASKED ME what I thought and put it in their improvement report and now it’s a must do…ok.

        1. EngineeringFun*

          Agreed. I’m working at a large company for the first time in my career and consultants are a new weird thing. Management brings in consultants to parallel current work being done by in house engineers, just in case we miss something. How discouraging. After a year I’m not seeing the value in this practice.

    2. Seal*

      Alison’s explanation is spot-on. I’m watching this very thing play out at my workplace: the worst of our staff was inexplicably appointed to a search committee and proceeded to recommend we hire a director who didn’t meet the minimum qualifications because they were funny. Never mind all the giant red flags that everyone else warned them about; they want someone who could make them laugh. A few months in and no one’s laughing now. Our new director is a micromanaging mess, our best people are leaving, and yet the majority of the search committee is still patting themselves on the back for hiring this fool.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s like they read the letter about the no-humor office and drew all the wrong lessons.

        1. Seal*

          That and the fact that they didn’t want someone who expected them to actually work rather than sit around and gossip all day.

          Needless to say, I’m one of the people who’s planning to leave.

    3. kiki*

      I think Alison’s point also illustrates why a lot of times the only path forward is to leave. Unless you can get to a place where the company is majority competent (especially in crucial, decision-making positions), new incompetence will keep being drawn-in.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yup, and the competent people will generally leave, while the incompetent people stay, thus increasing the concentration of incompetence.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          And once a place becomes generally dysfunctional, at multiple levels, it’s *extremely* hard to change. If the upper management isn’t completely on board, it simply won’t, if they are, it can still take a long time and involve a lot of house-cleaning style firing. If it’s the owner who is the problem, the prospects are even worse.

    4. Artemesia*

      And consultants especially from big consulting firms are mostly recycling boilerplate and word searching and inserting the name of your company into boilerplate. I washed a very expensive consulting firm come out with a plan to strip out unnecessary administration and recommending getting rid of the people who actually perform the most critical mission for the organization — because it is not a mission that is true of typical businesses. They simply didn’t know the field and laid their trite recommendations onto an organization with a unique mission. e.g. if it were an educational organization, they wanted to drop the functions that manage student needs.

      Bob needs to be looking for a new job, yesterday.

  6. Heffalump*

    What happened to evaluating a suggestion on its merits, whether it comes from an employee or a consultant? I know, I know, too logical. Don’t mind me.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      In my experience there are 3 kinds of consultants:
      1) bad ones who don’t know what they’re talking about or don’t listen and consider the realities of who they’re consulting for
      2) mediocre ones who know their stuff and recommend best practices as though they’re news to everyone at the company – even when everyone there has been suggesting the same thing for years – but the consultant still takes credit for it
      3) good ones who know their stuff and also know the employees probably do too or at least that employees have all the context, ask them all the stuff they’ve been saying for years that fell on deaf ears and make it clear they’re there for make the higher ups finally actually listen. In other words, they know the truism and use it to make effective changes. Plus they’re also knowledgeable enough to recognize when an internal suggestor is actually not on top of things and not pass along the bad ideas.

      1. pancakes*

        You haven’t included what seems to me the largest category and the most damaging one – the kind who work for private equity and government, and who produce cost-cutting analysis for a living. I don’t know whether you’d categorize the McKinsey consultants who worked on cutting detainee healthcare expenses for ICE or on fixing bread prices in Canada as “knowing their stuff” or not, and I’d say that isn’t the right framing to look at the ethical issues associated with the work or the flow of money in the industries where it’s big business.

      2. Snarktini*

        I’m the third, or at least I like to think I am. Clients often only ask us to talk to execs and customers/clients, and but I always scope in time to listen to employees as well and even make them a part of the whole process when possible. A big part of my job is using my influence (as a very expensive “expert”) to get leaders to actually hear reality and I take that seriously!

      3. Lora*

        I would add a fourth type: the hyper-specialists with 25+ years of experience in one very particular thing, who are hired for a limited time to fix just that one thing and then leave. In my field it’s usually the validation specialists, since we only need them for a year or two while we’re finishing a new facility, and we don’t build those very often. Another one I’ve worked with is regulatory specialists who sub-specialize in site remediation after a consent decree. They charge a fortune, but they are worth it.

      4. AnonToday*

        There’s also another kind of consultant: they listen to all the stakeholders (including people who use the organization’s services) and present ideas that would benefit the service clientele instead of just telling management the status quo is the platonic ideal of service provision… so the report is buried or dismissed as “biased” because the clientele can’t be trusted. (This happened with our County Board of Supervisors earlier this year.)

    2. A. Person*

      I think the argument would be that employees are too “in the weeds” and focused on things that would be convenient for them personally but might not be best the company as a whole, whereas consultants are seen as a neutral third party who can take a more objective view. Consultants can also collect employee feedback in a systematic way (so that it’s not dominated by a couple of noisy, opinionated people) and collate it into a package that it is easy for management to understand and act on, without the managers themselves having to spend a huge amount of time personally interviewing every employee.

      In practice of course consultants aren’t necessarily objective… I think it’s pretty common for consultants to tell management what they want to hear, and basically be used to give a veneer of independence to a decision that was already made (especially if it’s going to be unpopular).

  7. Cat Tree*

    This place sounds fairly dysfunctional thanks to Billy. This seems like a case where OP is really stuck on one specific point because it’s too overwhelming to be concerned with everything. But I don’t think the consultants are the main problem here, although Alison’s analysis is spot-on for general cases where that is the main problem.

    As I was reading I almost thought Alison made a mistake and put the wrong title. It took 7 paragraphs to even mention the newest consultant, and there was plenty of wild stuff going on in those first 6 paragraphs. Since Billy is so high up, the company culture is unlikely to change. This is more of a case of “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change”. Bob seems to have accepted that and decided the job is worth it to him (or he may be job searching and we wouldn’t know). But I think OP can also evaluate their own satisfaction with the job in that context even though they don’t seem to as directly affected as Bob is.

    1. feath*

      Was basically going to post exactly this. The consultant isn’t the problem, the boss is the problem.

      1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

        Right. The bad consultant is merely another symptom of a Bad Boss named Billy.

        1. Julia*

          I doubt LW was really asking for advice with the consultant; I think she just wanted to confide in a listening ear about what a mess Bob’s workplace is. Which is valid.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Exactly. I was fed up with Billy’s ridiculous list of insane demands long before he brought in a golf buddy, I mean consultant, to sit with him and talk about “the incompetent staff and their constant need for guidance and hand holding.”
      If it weren’t a consultant, it would be emails, or water coolers, or … oh wait, it already is.

      1. London Calling*

        Or time and motion studies. More years ago than I care to recall I temped at a bank that was in the middle of a time and motion study when I joined. The finer details have thankfully eluded me but I do recall their parting gesture was pieces of sticky tape on each desk to show where everyone had to place their phones, staplers and files to be ultra efficient.

        We had a great 10 minutes after they left ripping the whole lot off.

        1. pancakes*

          That’s Taylorism, named after the guy who came up with the idea. Long history there.

  8. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    This was exhausting to read. If you’re this frustrated second-hand, your partner should probably look for another job.

  9. EPLawyer*

    The owner sucks and is not going to change. He is the owner of the company and can do whatever he wants. Bob is not going to find the magic words to make the owner be reasonable. The job is not going to become better or less insane.

    Bob needs to find a new job.

    As for the overall question — people believe consultants have some magic expertise or they would not be “consulting.” So they pay for what they think is expertise. But because they don’t know how to evaluate who is REALLY an expert in management processes or whatever, the shady ones can still do quite well for themselves.

    True story — trial last march. The guy who is TRYING to get out paying child support hasn’t worked in years because he has various reasons why his business is insolvent (because he sucks and is not as great a businessman as he thinks he is). The judge asked him what his business was. Guy says “entrepreneur.” The judge was less than impressed and said “I don’t know what that means. It’s like consultant. We have almost as many consultants as we have lawyers. And if you ask me, we have too many.” I had to concentrate really hard on looking at my notepad so the judge wouldn’t see me cracking up.

    1. JustaTech*

      There are consultants and consultants. We have a couple of folks we hire in occasionally as “consultants” who are really subject matter experts about a very specific thing that we need an expert in for a short time (ie, not worth hiring someone for). So we’ll hire in Rick for a couple of weeks as an expert in the extremely convoluted statistics for one specific process. (Also, Rick used to work here on that exact thing, so he is already up to speed.) Or we have Bill come in for a week to train folks on a robot.

      Then there are people like the efficiency experts we hired years back who should have been super useful, except when they timed the same process at two different locations they used completely different time points that didn’t line up, so you couldn’t actually do the comparison they were hired to do. That was a case of these specific consultants sucking, but if they’d done it right they would have been super useful.

      And then there are people like Joe, like the guy in EPLawyer’s case, who don’t know squat and just waste time and resources. They’re the kind of people who get hired when management wants to look like they’re doing something, but not actually do anything.

    2. Startup fan*

      Yeah, well, that’s why this guy’s a judge and not an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs actually get things done. BTW, merely because a business is insolvent does not in any way, shape, or form mean that the founder is “not a great businessman.” Plenty of things can go wrong with a startup business, many of which are beyond the control of the founder. Others may be within the founder’s control but arise from assumptions that did not pan out but were reasonable. Good entrepreneurs continually form hypotheses, test them, and iterate.

      Lawyers don’t thrive in an environment where they lack all the facts. They’re not risk takers. Entrepreneurs almost never have all the facts.

      1. AnonToday*

        Yes, I’ve heard of “fail fast and fail often” because you can’t know if a business idea is going to work until you try it. But if someone has child support obligations they can’t meet because their business never seems to turn a profit, it’s time to go work for The Man and earn some money to keep food on your kids’ table and shoes on their growing feet.

        My business was hit hard by the pandemic–most of my wholesale customers went out of business and I had enough time to really analyze my business realize my pricing structure and business model weren’t working anyway. I have not completed my pivot to a new market because I need to take care of health issues I ignored while focusing on “hustle” but I don’t have anyone depending on me for child support, either.

  10. Anny*

    Alison hit the nail on the head: “…often when companies pay an outsider handsomely to examine and solve Issue X, they’re more likely to take what they say seriously.”

    I also think there’s something to do with the value attached to getting a fresh perspective. Yes, that absolutely can be valuable, but often it seems like there’s such a high premium placed on “fresh eyes” that there’s an assumption that anyone already within the company can’t possibly effectively identify problems. Even if they’ve been doing so for months or years.

    1. Smaller potatoes*

      I am a safety consultant and have lost track of the number of times the in-house safety manager agrees that I’ll be recommending things they’ve been trying to suggest for years.

    2. ferrina*

      A good consultant will also be able to look at a problem from many perspectives to fully outline the ramifications. They will talk to the company’s SMEs, follow the implications to understand the lift, listen to corporate priorities, and map that all back to the head honchos. Is it something that can be done internally? Sometimes, absolutely! But sometimes SMEs are too busy with the other aspects of their jobs, or no one has actually spoken to all of the stakeholders (or there’s a ton of stakeholders and/or spread across a wide distance/schedules), or there isn’t a bridge between the SMEs and the confidential corporate strategy (which may include funding that hasn’t been finalized, re-orgs or lay-offs, etc.).

      I’m a consultant and on a good day, my job is to listen to the company’s smart people and draw a line through what all of them are saying. On a bad day, I’m hired to tell the CEO what he wants to hear (or they throw my scope so out of whack that I don’t have access to who/what I need). One company hired us to develop a retention strategy, but it couldn’t involve better pay or benefits….and they were already paying at the low end of the market and deeply understaffed and overworked. They wanted to hear “work for the passion!” (strangely that didn’t make it to our final report /s)

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes, this. People sometimes roll their eyes at the slick presentations and buzzwords and such that consultants often use, but it serves a real purpose in communicating information in a way that’s actionable for senior managers.

        At my office, a variety of people had been saying that we needed to fix X, do Y, change Z, etc. for years. Consultants came in, did a bunch of public outreach (we’re a public agency), met with internal people, and put out a report saying that we needed a program with three major components, and component A.2 was to fix X, component B.4 was to do Y, etc. Most of the ideas weren’t new, but by formalizing it in that way, they gave management the structure that had been lacking to allocate staffing and funding, create accountability, etc. We’re a large and unwieldy enough organization that having it all pulled together in that way has really helped things get traction.

        There are lots of bad consultants out there, and maybe even more badly written scopes of work for consultants, but I’ve also worked with a lot of smart people who actually did provide helpful guidance.

      2. kanzeon88*

        Yeah this resonates with my experience (both as a former consultant and a recipient). We know when we’re presenting familiar ideas!

        In addition to expertise, consultants also (hopefully) have access, time, and buy-in. They can talk to everyone in the company and create a thorough strategy based on that- which leadership will then be more open to since they specifically hired the consultant to do that. Employees often don’t have the time, access and buy-in to do all of that. It can feel super frustrating on the employee end. A good consultant will work closely with internal people so when they “hand off the baton”, they’re also ensuring that person is seen as the expert going forward (ie they’re handing off their special status and buy-in to someone internal). If as an internal person you tell them that you’re going to be the one executing the work and want to stay as involved as possible, a good consultant will try to ensure that happens and will try to visibly promote you. If whoever hired them let’s them do that, of course.

    3. ABBBK*

      I’m a consultant, and we do put extra weight on solutions insiders have been saying all along. the idea is that there are probably a ton of possible solutions, and we’ll suggest some new ones and some that have already been thrown around. it’s easier to implement a solution your staff already has buy-in for so I view it as collaborative and supportive rather than lazy or sleazy. But i do get the frustration of someone being paid a lot of money to push an idea you already hadas part of your regular job.

    4. Beth*

      There’s also an unpleasant tendency for the consultant’s suggestions to be gold and shiny when the consultant is male and the in-house person to be female. In my case, at Former Toxic Job, it didn’t even have to be a consultant; if a male blogger suggested something that I’d been saying, it was immediately a Shiny New Idea that my Very Clever boss had just found.

      1. ferrina*

        I had this brand of sexism at OldJob. It didn’t even have to be a consultant- as long as the idea came from a male, it was a brilliant and deserved investment. If it came from a female, it was mediocre or “not what we were pursuing”. I (female) literally had a junior colleague (male) with no expertise in my field repeat my idea less than a week after I had pitched it (same audience for both of us). I got a condescending “I see where you think that’s a good idea, but it’s really not.” He got a “You’re brilliant! This is why we hired you! Yes! What resources do you need?”
        He then said, “It’s actually ferrina’s idea. ferrina, what resources do we need?” Their faces fell.

    5. Pippa K*

      The higher ed spin on this is that universities (mine and some others, anyway) would rather do anything than listen to their own faculty. We have microbiologists, virologists, and public health specialists, but they were disregarded in the campus covid response until months of faculty outrage piled up. Our experts in education, psychology, survey methodology, sex and racial discrimination, etc. are always ignored both in making policy and in pointing out the flaws in whatever shiny new consultant-led plan has been announced. It’s like if they listen to internal expertise (which they have on hand! For free!) we might start thinking we matter in the running of this place. Sigh.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Universities: We have world-class faculty in these fields!

        Also Universities: We’re not going to make any of our policies based on what our expert faculty say.

  11. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Yeah, this isn’t a consultant problem, this isn’t a company problem. This is a Billy problem. Billy doesn’t understand his job. He is there to lead his team, to give them what they need to do their jobs and then trust the people to do follow through. He thinks he is there to oversee them, that without his constant oversight they will do nothing.
    Thus is proved the managing managerially syllogism:
    If Billy demands minute by minute updates, then Billy must have input on everything he demanded to know.
    If Billy has input on everything he demanded to know, Bob must act on it.
    Therefore, if Bob acts on everything Billy demands Bob must not be able to complete his job without Billy’s input.

  12. honeygrim*

    “In the latter case, the employer often embraces those ideas when a consultant suggests them, after having ignored the exact same feedback from employees. That happens so often it’s a basically a universally recognized truism about consultants.”

    This happened to me in my previous job. The guy they brought in presented a report that said exactly what I had said three months earlier, almost word-for-word. It was just one example of my boss and the head of our department not trusting that I knew how to do my job, even though I’d been there for almost a decade. Unfortunately, there were many other similar situations. But it did spur me to job search harder, and now I’m in a role where my expertise is valued.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      As someone who has been on both sides, frequently they also just ignore the consultant. I’ve been in multiple situations as a consultant where the whole reason you were brought in was some butt covering or to pin the blame on before they fired you for problems they had years before they hired you.

      But the nice thing about being the consultant is that you really don’t have a dog in the dog show…..they want to ignore you, blame you, and send you out the door – as long as they pay your invoice……

      I also worked for a company that didn’t believe in consultants – everyone was an employee and there wasn’t a lot of turnover. It was a great place – except you didn’t get the new ideas new employees or consultants would bring in. Every new technology we had to self learn and figure out what the best way to implement it would be on our own. That was a little too “independent.”

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah….I used to work on a team where the team’s expansion plans were all determined by internal staff who had been continuously promoted. Which meant that they were designing how to expand a team to be much bigger than any they had ever been on and without external input on how similar teams that large were structured.

        Even if they’d tried to do desk research on “how do I grow this kind of team by 300%?”, I don’t know much would exist. And certainly they could have just hired consultants to rubber stamp their ideas. But truly just one of many cases where thoughtful hiring would have made sense.

      2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

        It’s true. I’ve also seen expensive consultants be ignored. Usually, it’s because the company really doesn’t have/or want to invest the money to make the required changes. But once I did see a case where the CEO was looking for someone to blame besides himself. Easy to blame the consulting firm.

  13. OrigCassandra*

    There is a Very Large and Prominent University in a Certain US State that has basically dismantled its library because of a passel of consultants who didn’t understand that a library and a library school are two different things.

    They’re looking for (the equivalent of; this is not the exact title) an Associate University Librarian. They’re gonna need an awful lot of undeserved luck for that search to work out, I’m thinking…

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I see a lot of this in my field. “Who needs a library, you can get everything you need on the Internet today!” Not entirely true.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep. Everyone thinks ‘we don’t need an editor, I’m good at writing and we can just get the intern to check the spellings in Word’.

        1. Liane*

          This! And never mind there are some things Word and spellcheckers always miss such as homophones/homonyms (allowed/aloud, to/too/two) or a typo that happens to also be a word (typing cab instead of can.)

        2. Lenora Rose*

          None of what the spill chicken does is even the same as editing (content and substance and refining your prose on a high level), OR copyediting (continuity, fact-checking and correct language usage).

    2. Seal*

      As an academic librarian who’s job hunting, I saw the job ad and laughed. They should have waited a few news cycles before posting that! Also not a good idea to post it right after the American Library Association’s first in-person conference in 3 years. Believe me, librarians everywhere are not happy about this.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      A university dismantling its library causes me physical pain, or at least serious wincing. Also, librarians are doing a disproportionate amount of the work of maintaining civil society.

    4. Yet Another Unemployed Librarian*

      I used to work in a small college library and one day some staff people come in with a sales person from a copier company. They were looking at replacing the whole school’s copiers with a new brand. Fine. Somehow this sales person goes off on all these Amazing Ideas she has for the library… including what if you put barcodes on all the books so you could keep track of who checked out what and so on…!!!!

      I and the three other professional librarians just kind of stared at her in disbelief and my boss managed to politely explain that we already did that. Fortunately nothing else happened, other than we did get new copiers.

    5. linus bk*

      If this is the system I’m thinking of, it looks like they have a couple of high-level positions being advertised. I can’t imagine why they’d find themselves with open positions…. ::eyeroll::

  14. Butters*

    I worked at a vet practice years back that decided to renovate and update the large animal surgical area. The way they had been doing things was outdated and wildly unsafe. Instead of asking the professionals who had worked in safe, up to date arrangements (who also were younger women) he listened exclusively to the “architects.” They came up with a configuration that just didn’t work, was unsafe and wouldn’t allow you to close access doors in an emergency! When we pointed out these issues he got very angry and accused us of not knowing what we were doing and sabotaging the practice. We kept our mouths shut and quit shortly thereafter.

    My point is these people don’t change. They only like the smell of their own farts, no matter how rancid.

    1. metadata minion*

      Oh gosh architects. We had the same problem in the library I work at. They kept showing us all these designs with abundant! natural! light! Which, yay, I am all in favor of natural light (though actually maybe not in the stacks areas since it causes the paper to degrade). But a large percentage of students do most of their studying in the library at night, when the natural light goes away, and there is so little artificial light that we have to loan out desk lamps.

      1. londonedit*

        I understand a bit more what architects are about thanks to watching a programme we have here called Ugly House to Lovely House, with George Clarke (who is an architect turned TV presenter). The premise is that someone has a really awful house that doesn’t work at all architecturally or practically – one memorable very expensive house literally looked like a 1970s block of flats, and there was another that was basically a flat above some garages – and George Clarke gets in a top architect to sort it out. The clients on the show will give their budget, and of course when the architects show their designs, it’s all absolutely incredible, it’s a dream, it looks totally stunning…and it’s going to cost about £100k more than the clients want to spend. And at that point, what the architect *always* says is ‘Yes, but we’re showing them the dream scenario. If they want to spend £100k more, that’s great and they can have all this stuff. But even if they don’t, maybe now that they’ve seen the dream, they’ll be more adventurous with the scheme they do choose, which never would have happened if they hadn’t seen the ultimate vision’. Which I definitely understand – and as far as the programme goes, it’s true, because loads of the people they’ve featured have done things like installing giant windows or making something open-plan or whatever, which they never would have done originally, because it was something they saw on the dream plan and thought OK, well, we can’t have everything, but we can have this bit and it’ll make the whole thing so much better.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Artistic architects: I think the epitome is Fallingwater, which is beautiful, and had to be structurally shored up because Frank Lloyd Wright got the math wrong. He also designed a very pretty synagogue outside Philadelphia that has trouble with a leaky roof.

          Non-artistic architects are a different breed entirely. They are about ensuring the design is done right. Some years back my church put in an elevator. This was startlingly expensive, and required some pretty serious structural work. An architect was required to get the permits, and would have been an awfully good idea anyway. You want a professional for something like this. The only artistry involved was the selection of brickwork for the shaft, which was exterior to the original building. He did a very nice job matching the bricks. You can see that they are newer if you look closely, but just walking by you would never notice.

          1. Lora*

            Exhibit B: The Stata Center at MIT, which leaks so badly they can only use it in a very limited way and had to relocate all the scientific equipment that was originally going to go in it.
            Exhibit C: the Lewis Building at CWRU, where the architect’s weird hallway angles made it exceedingly difficult for the SWAT team to take out the shooter.
            …and my personal favorite, Rafael Vinoly, who has a thing for creating buildings like giant lenses that focus solar energy to the point of cooking vehicles and boiling swimming pools.

            1. Cedrus Libani*

              I worked in the Stata Center when it was new, and yeah…the roof looks nice in the pictures, but not when it’s drooling on very expensive and temperamental electronics, which it did. Routinely.

              There was a conference room with no right angles; I wasn’t sensitive to it, but for roughly a quarter of the population, it caused vertigo / dizziness to the point where they didn’t want to go in there.

              There was also a lovely landscaped bleacher-seating area that was made of concrete, and they didn’t put drainage in. Predictable result: the plant-holes became water-holes with dead rotting trees inside.

              Point is, even a weird building has to do basic building things. Sometimes there’s a very good reason people don’t generally do it the weird way. Sometimes not, but even so, you and/or your contractors may get distracted and forget about the basics.

          2. Mpls*

            Not quite so dramatic, but – The architect/design team that put an outdoor ticket window to a multi-screen movie theater. In Minnesota.

            Had to add on a glass enclosure that is always a little stuffy, since it wasn’t part of the original HVAC design.

        2. Beth*

          I’d be way more impressed with an architect that actually gave me something I could use, instead of one who automatically ignores the #1 instruction that the client gives him (“This is how much money we have to spend”.) If his math is so bad he can’t keep to a budget, what other basic math failure is going to turn up?

          Mr. Big Shot Architect can Dream Big on his own time.

        3. AnotherOne*

          I love The House That £100k Built, because again the inclusion of an architect sorta going on your budget there are still things you can do that will make the house more interesting to live in or easier to live in.

          Not sure I’d want to live with all the things. But definitely fascinating.

      2. Narnia librarian*

        I once worked in a library where the architect decided that it wasn’t necessary to have a storytime room, because storytime is just nice ladies quietly reading books to well behaved children, right? By the time they showed the plans to any actual library staff, the process was too far along and all they could do was add a sliding wall in the children’s area so we could close it off for storytime. We called it Narnia, because it doesn’t always exist.

        This was an award winning library that was in all the library journals and architectural magazines the year it was built, and the absent storytime room was not the only problem. There are so many architects who are more interested in looking cool and getting in magazines than they are in making a usable building.

        1. Evan Þ*

          At least you gave it a good name! I expect the kids loved that part of it, at least!

        2. Rebeck*

          That’s a constant problem in libraries- they never ask the actual people who work there until it’s far too late

      3. Pippa K*

        My opinion of the British Library (from the outside) was always “ick, ugly” – until I actually used it and came away with a deep appreciation of whoever designed the reading rooms. Lighting, desk space, it’s all clearly designed by someone who had users firmly in mind. I love working in that space now. The difference in spaces designed thoughtfully for their purpose and spaces designed to look cool/be inexpensive/etc seems like a good measure of talent in an architect.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I can think of few things I would *less* want designed by an outsider than a large-animal surgery. Holy crap.

    3. AnonToday*

      I was a member of a chain of makerspaces. When the lease ran out in the facility closest to me, they relocated to a nearby space where they completely rejected any customer input about the new layout. So they ended up with the laser cutters in the front window because they’re kewl and attract passersby to tour the building and maybe get a membership, and the sewing area far away from the window because the lasers are there. So we ended up with the sun shining on our computer monitors and the quilters and costumers didn’t have adequate lighting (or natural light to assess material colors.) The workflow in the woodshop made no sense so people had to move projects through other people’s workspaces, which could be dangerous if someone was an oaf who interrupted or bumped into someone using power tools.

      Oh, and the front of the building sloped down to the street because it used to be a grocery store. So the laser cutters weren’t working right because they were on a slope, and our desk chairs rolled downhill. They bodged together some kind of leveling feet bolting the lasers to the floor–which put the housings out of square and caused problems with the lens gantry. When I complained about not being able to get the same quality as I had in the old facility, the new manager called me a liar and suspended my membership in the middle of a client project… and the suspension applied to ALL three locations in the area.

  15. Here For The Popcorn*

    It’s time for Bob to update his resume and move on. He’s put in a year so a move to expand his professional horizons is not unreasonable. Continuing to work for Billy would be.

  16. alienor*

    I’ve had the bad consultant experience, but what seems to happen more often is: the consultant comes in, meets with everyone to get their input, takes it seriously, and presents management with a list of issues that need to be fixed. Management doesn’t like hearing this because they’re the same issues that employees have been telling them about for years, and the next thing you know, you hear that the consultant has “finished their work” and nothing is ever addressed or changed. Massive amounts of money get spent on this exercise every few years because, I assume, someone high up is hoping the next consultant will give them a quick and easy fix for the big systemic problems (or else tell them that there are no systemic problems and they just need to order in pizza on Fridays or something).

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Expanding on this, the bad consultant experience is when they come in and give the quick and easy fix that upper management was hoping for.

    2. Smithy*

      Another fun variation on this one, is a consultant comes in that Management loves. Listens to everyone seriously, puts together a very comprehensive plan of what is needed, and wins the trust of junior staff by keeping their less flattering input confidential and successfully messages up to Management in ways that they don’t hate.

      Consultant puts together a comprehensive plan and Management offers to hire them to execute it. Consultant declines because the place is obviously a disaster where once they’re an employee, the plan would never get traction and they would eventually become hated. Management turns on Consultant and decides their plan obviously wasn’t any good anyways…..

    3. Always a Corncob*

      Yep. My old company paid a consulting firm to do a salary survey, didn’t share the results, told us we were paid at market (we very demonstrably were not), and that was the end of it. This was just one of many problems, and there was extremely high turnover for a while.

    4. Anonosaurus*

      I have been this consultant, and what senior management in that scenario want is a solution that fixes everything without changing anything (or at least not requiring them to change). Sorry, magic isn’t included in the day rate!

  17. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I work for (what I think is) a pretty good consulting company. We recently hired outside consultants to oversee an aspect of our internal operations we don’t specialize in. B ( make the same suggestions that people working there have been making for years. In the latter case, the employer often embraces those ideas when a consultant suggests them, after having ignored the exact same feedback from employees) still happened and was i n f u r i a t i n g. Especially when leadership made it seem like this was all brand new information. The consultants weren’t bad, I’d say they were middling, but they just really needed to hear it from someone else. They could dismiss the feedback internally by being like “Jane is always dramatic” or “of course Tom feels that way but he doesn’t have experience in x”. I assume this is a universal experience.

  18. Christmas850*

    Several years ago, our school district ended up firing a “consultant“ that had worked for them for years. Complaints against him had been ignored for a while, but increased to a point where they couldn’t be disregarded anymore. I was one of the complainants.

    During a training session wherein he condescendingly lectured us about topics that we had already learned about in college (and mastered in our own classrooms), he perceived that I wasn’t paying attention, so he ran up to me and grabbed a stack of papers on my desk and threw them violently on the ground. I found out later that he had made numerous women feel inappropriate with physical touching and provocative comments.

    When everything hit the news, we were enraged to learn that his annual salary was around $140,000. **This was about 4 times what our teachers made.**

    To this day I still feel incredibly angry that such a fraud held his position for so long, just to harass women and insult teachers with rudimentary pedagogical training peppered with tantrums and profanity.

  19. hamsterpants*

    Career success is always a blend of hard skills (doing the stated job) and then how well you sell your achievements to management. This is a clear failure mode where boss is evaluating 100% on the latter and 0% on the former.

  20. Heidi*

    The OP states that Bob finds the positives (whatever they may be) outweigh the negatives, which kind of sounds like Bob has elected to stay where he is with the understanding that Billy is not going to change. It’s the OP who thinks he should be doing something, whether it be finding another job (which is what I would do) or trying to get Billy to change (which sounds like it’s going to be pointless and aggravating). I get why that’s frustrating for the OP to witness, but this decision is also not permanent. Bob can re-evaluate his life down the road and decide that the positives no longer outweigh the negatives.

  21. A Simple Narwhal*

    I am fairly confident that Billy is actually just a bunch of bees in a trench coat.

    Unless there’s something specific keeping Bob at this job, he should try looking elsewhere.

  22. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’m not sure Joe is even a grifter! He sounds like he’s just naturally incompetent, clueless, and overbearing.

    1. pancakes*

      Yeah, it sounds like he genuinely thinks he’s providing a valuable service, and that Billy thinks so too.

  23. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    I first heard this description at least 20-25 years ago…

    Consultants are people who are hired to tell you what time it is, and they come in three distinct “flavors”:

    (1) A decent consultant will look at his/her watch and tell you the time.

    (2) A good consultant will look at your watch and tell you the time.

    (3) A very good consultant will make you look at your watch and announce the time, then repeat it back to you and bill you twice.

    1. hamsterpants*

      This is so interesting!

      I get the message about teaching clients to help themselves. But what if the client’s watch is wrong?

      1. pancakes*

        They both think it’s correct, or near enough. The shareholders are incensed it isn’t, and take class action as a result. The litigation goes on for three to four years before being quietly settled, and life goes on.

  24. JelloStapler*

    ugh B- thinking a consultant knows more than what their own staff knows (then ignoring the advice when it isn’t what they wanted to hear) is the MO of Higher education.

  25. kiki*

    I think a lot of people trust consultants over internal employees because they perceive them to be “unbiased.” That’s not the case because all people have biases of some sort, but most employees advocate for themselves or their department over others. So when an employee says “Our department is understaffed, the top priority should be filling these roles,” some bosses think, “Oh, everyone wants to expand their department. This isn’t severe and can wait.” It’s only when a consultant comes in and agrees that said department is badly understaffed, the boss thinks, “oh, objectively this department must be understaffed.” I saw this exact situation happen at my last job. They allowed the engineering department at a SOFTWARE COMPANY to be hollowed out and have five engineers working on their flagship product, their highest earner. Engineers and product managers had been sounding the alarm for years that this was unsustainable and a stupid place to cut costs. But one random consultant comes in and says the same thing and all of a sudden the C-Suite is yelling, asking who let this happen, and demanding to hire 30 new senior engineers, stat.

    Additionally, many consultants are really good at gaining people’s trust and stroking egos, even if they’re not delivering good outcomes. Ego can override business savvy shockingly easily.

  26. Alexis Rosay*

    I was pretty shocked when I learned that a lot of people I went to school with were going directly from university to “consulting” job. How could someone “consult” when they had no career experience and no expertise?

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I’m assuming they’re junior researchers or assistants, not the actual consultants with years of industry experience.
      Generally, one can’t be a true consultant without 10-15+ years of industry experience with at least a director level position + the education to match.
      (With some possible exceptions for truly gifted “wunderkind” people perhaps–because you can always have the exception. I’ve seen some young robotics engineers or coders who have less professional time–but this is not as common).

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        The Accenture model – and the entire high end consultancy model from big consulting firms (think McKinsey or PWC) is to hire top students out of top universities (often, but not always MBAs, some just completing their undergrad) and train them up in “the Accenture Way” and send them out. They work under the direction of a partner who actually does have experience (but often only Accenture experience) and are usually implementing something done before by playbook (supply chain improvement project…..ERP upgrade……). Talking to these guys is usually a hoot, because they have almost zero real life experience in business – they’ve only ever flown into a city on Sunday night, lived in hotels, and implemented “supply chain improvements” from the playbook.

      2. DistantAudacity*

        Used to work for Bigtime Consulting.

        It’s also important to distinguish between an advisory role and a delivery (or assistant to advisory role), even if externally everyone’s a “consultant”. As said, those with plenty of experience have advisory roles, and new grads will have entry level roles, or be team members of a developer team, etc.

        This should of course be the general rule, but does of course not always happen. Buyer incompetency is also a thing (and a major hindrance to getting a good result)

    2. kiki*

      Yes! One thing I’ve experienced with a lot of consultants, especially at some firms that I know hire a lot of folks straight out of college, is proposals that look good on paper but are so comically divorced from real life.

      It’s so simple! We’ll just replace our skilled customer support engineers with general contractors who work part-time and are paid $12/hr, saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Will half our customers leave because they aren’t able to get adequate help using our products? Also yes! But we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars! Who care if we also lost a few million-dollar clients!

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This is a specific case of the general principle that upper management often places undue weight to line items on a spreadsheet and in the immediate term. So a supermarket will know how many plastic bags they use, will find a cheaper supplier, calculate the savings based on using the same number, and run a victory lap. But the actual checkers need to use more bags because they are so cheaply made, and the bagging process takes longer to boot. If management were to go back six months later and compare how many bags they were using and were to do the math, they might conclude that they are better off with the more expensive bags. But it is easier not to bother with the follow-up math.

        1. AnonToday*

          My academic department switched to cheaper paper towels in the bathroom–they were also recycled so yay environment. Except those were so flimsy that everyone had to use more to get their hands dry. Worse yet, they shedded loose fibers that clogged the air filters and something in the HVAC system broke down before anyone figured out what was going on. (This was 15 years ago so I don’t remember the details about the HVAC except the root cause was towels and it cost us a bunch of money to fix.)

          We used those paper towels in our lab for worm bedding, and our students started getting bad lab results. The treated and control worms were both equally sick. We were testing for neurotoxicity of metals… and one day, someone noticed shreds of metal in the recycled towels under a microscope.* So our students lost a whole semester’s worth of results and we had to restart our worm colony using higher quality towels.

          All because someone decided to go cheap and eco-friendly with the bathroom towels.

          *Metal shreds in recycled towels and paper plates are why manufacturers recommend not microwaving these products.

    3. As per Elaine*

      It depends on the job. I know people in “financial IT consulting” which in this instance is basically “we rent out really good developers to write software for banks.” They mostly hire people fresh out of school, who they can train up as they like. It does take several years for one of their consultants to be providing significant advice on the direction of a client project, but their good hires seem to get up to speed within a few months.

  27. Rain's Small Hands*

    As there are several owners, of whom Billy is one, it MIGHT be possible to talk to the other owner(s). They are likely well tied up in Billy’s contractor shenanigans – and in a small company, every penny spent on a useless consultant is coming out of their profits. It may be possible, or desirable, for the owner/managers to come to some terms about hiring in outside help – i.e. they all need to agree to do it because its a large expense. I consulted in some law firms that basically had that deal, any major expense had to be approved by all the Senior partners – a couple of consultants shaves FEET off the boat you are going to buy that year.

    On the other hand, they know about Billy’s previous useless contractor, seem to be aware Billy is sending their profits towards friends and acquaintances in this manner, and aren’t taking action, so they seem to be fine with it. I would be livid if my partner did that, but maybe they have a limitless pool of money.

    (A friend of mine works for a small firm where one of the owners is starting to go off the rails, and the other two owners don’t know how to handle it. It sounds like its going to be bad – he’s driving away both clients and staff. Its part of the growing pains of a small private company – and they are growing pains that can end up fatal.)

  28. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    Unfortunately, there really isn’t a way to work with this but to get out of it. Billy is a terrible boss who seems to have zero clue how to conduct the basics of marketing and planning, or else he has Savior Complex. It is incredibly difficult to work with people like Billy because they will constantly sabotage the best laid plans at your expense and then throw you under the bus when things fall apart.

    I’ve rarely seen consultants make improvements that increased sales, because even if they DID present well-researched good ideas, it’s unlikely management follows through on the suggestions because they would cost too much money–money that has already been spent on the consultants. Sometimes, good employees become the sacrificial layoff lambs to pay for the consultants. Either way ends the same. They suck the money out of the company with few results to show for it.

    I often question the whole culture of American corporatism. The demands for obscene profit are so great that companies are always looking for some kind of “MAGIC FORMULA” to get them there. Couple that with a lack of leadership, and thus they fall prey to consulting firms who promise to have all the answers.

    1. pancakes*

      “Billy is a terrible boss who seems to have zero clue how to conduct the basics of marketing and planning, or else he has Savior Complex.” This isn’t necessarily an either/or. It could be that he sees himself as the savior-type precisely because he’s simple-minded. There’s an old saying, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” To Billy, marketing his business looks like a simple matter of doing things like having Joe write out the days of the week on a sheet of paper, and posting photos of their products to Instagram.

  29. Wilton Businessman*

    Not your circus, not your monkeys. Just from the description, it’s time to move on.

  30. Me (I think)*

    Yeah, we had the consultants from hell come in to tell us all how to do our jobs. At the time I was a nationally recognized expert in my field (it’s a very small niche field, so this isn’t really bragging lol.) They had all kinds of “high tech” ideas that were totally against best practices in the field, but they sounded soooo coooooool to the bosses. The consultants couldn’t answer basic questions about the logistical details of their ideas, but of course our questions were dismissed as whining and being “afraid of change.”

  31. GelieFish*

    Often the consultant they hire is a friend or some previous relationship. Sometimes this works fine, but often it is just an overpriced handout. We had a buddy of out grand boss come in, divided a department that logically went together. The divided out part floated around to other departments until it ended back with the original a few years later.

  32. idwtpaun*

    OP, Billy is a horrible boss and the problem Bob is facing, which I think you know, given that the consultant question is irrelevant to your letter and tacked on at the end.

    Your partner really needs to be looking for a new job. Consultants in general or even Joe in particular don’t really have anything to do with his current situation, which is that the person in charge is incompetent and makes work difficult.

  33. QA Peon*

    Reminds me of the outside “customer service specialist” my company brought in one time. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, his advice might have been ok for marketing/sales type service – but we were an internal IT help desk. When you’re supporting computers and networks for internal users, the customer is often NOT right and some of us needed coaching on telling them that and holding the line on internal processes without making them cry, or how to walk a completely clueless user through replacing a hot swappable server hard drive.
    The whole training session was a gigantic waste of time and money, don’t know what management was thinking.

  34. LittleRedJen*

    This reminds me of a company I worked for – the company hired a salesman who, after a few months of working with us, introduced himself to our department at an annual meeting and excitedly announced that he’d heard about a service we could offer our clients! It was in great demand! The company could make a lot of money!

    The service he “discovered” was the bread and butter of our department and had been for years…

  35. Quinalla*

    I’ve seen similar to this too. It may just be incompetence glomming onto incompetence. I’ve also seen it where it is a bad boss who won’t listen to feedback they don’t like (basically calling out bad boss as the problem), so they will fall for the consultant(s) who tell them something that does NOT call for bad boss to change anything. They implement it and either consider the problem solved or blame the consultant if it doesn’t work without ever having to do any self-reflection.

    This is why I really admire people in general, but especially in bosses, who can self-reflect and are willing to change. It is SO important.

  36. Just another queer reader*

    My employer has contracted with a consultant who tells them all the same things that I’ve been telling them for years as a leader in the LGBTQ group.

    I keep hoping my employer will listen to the consultant…

    1. kiki*

      I had the same thing happen with my former company’s group for Black employees and an external consultant. It would have saved them money to just listen to Black employees. But instead they spent a lot on DEI consultants. We would hope they would take those suggestions they paid so much for seriously and yet…

  37. LoV...*

    Sounds like there is a larger issue here, but from working in local gov’t, you’d be surprised at how often mediocre consulting firms get hired, only for the elected official or other decision maker to end up working for the consulting firm later.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      In a different direction, political consultants are a classic way of laundering campaign contributions.

    2. pancakes*

      Another thing that seems to happen is the official meets a big business exec who has ties to mediocre consultants, and is quickly and easily persuaded that the consultants must be really talented. My favorite terrible example of this is what happened in Newark with their public schools. One of the things they did after taking $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg was create a foundation to handle other donations and decide how to spend the money. The cost of a seat at that table was initially a $10 million gift, which excluded pretty much every organization that had actually been working in those schools and in that community. They lowered it to $5 million and it was still a mess. The community had basically no input into how the money was spent, and surprise, $20 million of it went to consultants rather than into the community. A reporter named Dale Russakoff wrote a book about this debacle.

      1. AnonToday*

        Yikes! I think the people in San Jose who negotiated the Community Benefits Agreement with Google had that in mind when they negotiated (and won) community control over the distribution of funds. The details are still being hashed out, but it isn’t going to look like “must belong to org that can donate $$$$$$$$ to sit at the table.” Or “the community can sit at the table but the City will make the decisions” because the City reps won’t have voting power–just subject matter expertise.

        1. pancakes*

          I haven’t been following that super closely but I’m not optimistic about it. The number of privacy advisors who have resigned from the “Digital Privacy Advisory Taskforce” because they’re being ignored is not good. They don’t get to review contracts they’re supposed to, five quarterly meetings in a row canceled, etc. A lot of what’s going on there seems sketchy in the same ways that Newark arrangement was sketchy, and the same ways Google’s Toronto project was sketchy. From a Motherboard article about the San Jose project, talking about the way Google / Alphabet depicted the community in Toronto:

          “The pilot’s original privacy impact assessment, published in November 2021, stated that public reaction had been ‘overwhelmingly positive’ and that 80 percent of respondents were ‘very comfortable’ with the project. When Marachi probed about the amount of respondents and the outreach process, the document was changed to say that only eleven people responded to the request for comment. Of those, eight said they were ‘very comfortable’ with the project and one said they were uncomfortable.”

          Eleven people! And that’s just one little tidbit among many. It’s impossible to satirize this stuff.

  38. Grits McGee*

    I had a boss like Billy- micromanaging while also having no idea what they wanted, and constantly changing goals and directions. I tried to deal with it by creating detailed project plans, scheduling regular meetings to go over what I was doing, and getting their written agreement to every decision I made.

    It didn’t help. I would spend hours preparing detailed proposals and getting sign offs for pink and purple polka dots, only to be told, after the polka dots had been painted, that actually pink and purple was tacky so all of the purple polka dots needed to be repainted blue. The only thing that worked was moving to another job. That new supervisor was also a micromanager, but at least new boss knew what she wanted.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Yup! I also worked for an owner like Billy. Maybe even worse than Billy in some ways, because he also treated the consultants like crap too. His M.O. was to basically get work from various contractors/consultants/agencies for free by sucking them in, getting the advice or work made, and then shitting on it and firing them without paying.

      Sometimes it was a bit amusing to see the grifter types get grifted, but it was a terrible situation because good companies and people got the shaft too.

  39. Clobberin’ Time*

    The OP has an awful lot of detail about Bob’s horrible work situation. Does Bob want advice? Is Bob torn on how to fix things?

    I can’t tell whether the OP is just sick of listening to Bob endlessly gripe about a bad job he won’t leave, or whether OP is determined to “fix” Bob’s work despite Bob not asking for that.

  40. Purely Allegorical*

    I’ll be honest I stopped reading after the third paragraph to come say this in the comments: You do not have a consultant problem, you have a boss problem.

    Maybe you also have a consultant problem, but you are focusing on this as the main issue because it’s the only area where you feel like you could maybe have some control. But your main problem is Billy, and nothing there will ever change.

    Get a different job. From what your partner does, there is A LOT of job opportunity elsewhere. (I am also in this field so I am speaking from experience.)

  41. redflagday701*

    Ugh, I had a boss (the owner, tiny company) who would constantly ask for things to be redone as soon as I finished them, like making tiny changes to a 200-page price list multiple times after copies had been printed and punched and put into binders for several people. He also surfed the web by standing behind me and telling me what to click.

  42. NewJobNewGal*

    Incompetent Managers hire consultants to they can blame the consultant for all the problems. Then they fire the consultant and hire a new one. Incompetent Manager can hide their own personal incompetence for a few years with this strategy.
    The consultant isn’t the con-artist, the manager is.

  43. ABCYaBye*

    While I’m not intending this to come down on the OP, it does seem like the only change that is going to occur will be a change in your perspective. If Bob is *generally* content and believes that positives outweigh negatives, Bob has decided to stick it out for whatever reason(s). This place IS a terrible workplace, but not YOUR workplace. It is easier said than done when you want to support your spouse, but you’re going to have to let this crap go. It may take you telling Bob that you can’t hear about this stuff for your own mental health.

    All that said, if he’s one iota as frustrated as you are on his behalf, he needs to look elsewhere for a different job. Things at this workplace aren’t going to change, and probably will only get worse as time goes on.

    1. Threeve*

      Hearing a loved one complain frequently about something they could take action about but won’t is exhausting, and it’s okay to set limits about how much you’re willing to listen to.

      There was a great Carolyn Hax column a few days ago about extreme work-stress venting and the toll it was taking on a marriage and Hax was pretty blunt: talk to a friend, a therapist, yourself or a pet. You can’t keep dumping it all on your spouse just because talking is how you deal with stress.

  44. not that kind of Doctor*

    The (fortunately now former) owner of my employer also liked to hire clueless consultants who were acquaintances or had been recommended by them. The last proposed to charge $100k for suggestions that were a) inappropriate to our business, b) already underway, or c) too expensive. It took the entire leadership team standing up to him to make it stop. My boss and her boss were both prepared to be fired over it.

  45. Work From Homer Simpson*

    Like all the other commenters have said, this isn’t really a consultant problem, but a management problem.

    However, I did find a way to work the system in my last job. After getting fed up from one particular example where a consultant came in, made all the same recommendations I’d been making for months, and then was patronizing about my level of experience (shocker – I was a younger woman in a male-dominated field) in front of management, I took matters into my own hands. I found a consultant that management liked and that I trusted as well. I started hiring out things to them when I got pushback from my management.

    Basically, I’d pitch a solution to management, and when they’d start hemming and hawing about it, I’d whip out the already prepared quote for having this consultant study the subject for us. Management would usually agree with “getting an outside perspective” or “doing a deeper dive.” Then I’d feed my consultant what I wanted, they’d dress it up a little (to give them credit, they would sometimes add some good ideas I hadn’t thought of), and then hand it to management for me.

    Management loved it because they saw me as being proactive to get the consultant lined up and they got their shiny third-party report to base their decision on (CYA seemed to be a big motivator for them), and I’d get what I wanted all along more often than not. Of course this cost the company way more in consultant fees, but hey, at least work was getting done.

    So, now that Bob knows the game, go play it! Or leave. Leaving is better long-term anyway, but this might make it more tolerable in the interim.

  46. pcake*

    I’m in a small industry, and for years, when working as a consultant, more than 70% of my consulting jobs were follow-ups after one of these two consultants messed up everything worse. One wasn’t a grifter – they just didn’t know what they thought they knew. The other was a grifter – he didn’t know, but he knew he didn’t know. He didn’t do pretty much anything but give bad advice that cost people money, and he charged a $25,000 fee to get started with him that people who owned small companies often paid.

    Disappointingly for me, I was often able to unravel their issues quickly, so I didn’t make that much money from any one of those customers, but I felt great helping save their businesses.

    1. linger*

      Which seems to imply that for consultants there’s a negative correlation between effectiveness and remuneration!

  47. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    You mention that Billy is one of the owners. Where are the other owners in all of this? Are they aware of just how much chaos Billy is causing and how much extra expenses are coming from all the last-minute changes? Are they equally terrible at their jobs? Do they know Billy is awful, but lack the skills or desire to deal with the Billy Problem head on? Basically, is it a Billy Problem or a bigger Leadership Problem?

    Where are Bob’s current boss (who poached him) and his other boss (who is happy with him) in handling this? If Bob doesn’t have the standing to address the other owner(s), do his bosses? Are they prepared to have a Come to Jesus moment with the other owners about this situation? Like, this is chaos, everyone hates it, and it’s costing you a lot of money directly and indirectly with having to replace staff. Do they think it has a hope of being helpful if they did?

  48. anonymous73*

    The issue here isn’t falling for a consultant’s BS. The issue is that the other owners of the company are allowing Billy to behave in this dysfunctional manner and not doing anything to stop it. Bob needs to find a new job ASAP.

  49. MollyMcIntire*

    Re: Billy making frequent last minute changes – I had a boss that did this in a job I was in for 3.5 years. It was brutal. For example, I’d spend tons of time revising training materials, she’d say they looked fine, then 2 days before they were supposed to be rolled out she’d *actually* read them and tear them apart in completely nonsensical ways. This is a control thing, because she was generally bad at her job – similar to Billy, and I think it helped her feel like she was a good and involved boss. I fixed this issue by switching jobs, which you should support your partner in doing, as well!

  50. Lollipop*

    At a previous job, management hired a consultant who told us to be more efficient by only checking e-mail once per day. When I noted that our contract with my customer included a 4-hour response time, I was labeled difficult and argumentative.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Oh FFS.
      And I’ll bet your management would be pissed if you didn’t see and respond to their emergency e-mails ASAP.

  51. Anon in Aotearoa*

    I am currently this consultant. Management told me when I came in that one particular business unit were a pain to work with, always complaining, completely unrealistic. So I went and listened carefully to that business unit. Of course, they were being vocal – they’d been messed around by management for years and had totally legitimate concerns. I tried to make the issues and potential solutions very clear in my final report, and management made all the right noises, but I have little hope that they’ll actually act on my recommendations.

  52. Unpopular opinion*

    I think OP should take a step back from her partner’s work life. She’s not in a position to tell whether Billy’s takes on things are justified.

    1. pancakes*

      Are you responding to something(s) in the letter that you think indicate good leadership on Billy’s part, or do you just like the idea that he’s a better leader than described?

  53. DJ Abbott*

    I was unemployed and underemployed from December 2019 to March 2022. In my job search I saw lots of these consultant jobs. I know from past interviewing experience they are fairly easy to get, you just act confident and talk a good game and they will hire you and send you to a company.
    So you end up in this company where you’re supposed to accomplish certain things and solve certain problems and you have no background in the company, the culture, the problem, the technology… but they’re still looking to you to fix the problem(s). And this leads to consultants having to fake it, or do things on the fly, or both.
    I did not apply for such jobs because I don’t need the stress of being put in that position. I don’t want to be that person who comes in and screws things up and makes things harder for the company and the employees.
    So I think one of the points I’m trying to make here is, consultant jobs are accepted by people who are willing to do that.

  54. DD*

    My former large employer (100K+ employees) loved bringing in high-priced consultants (Kinsey, KPMG, BCG, etc) because they didn’t believe internal people. These consultants were basically a bunch of kids with newly minted MBAs from top colleges who have little to zero business experience and like to run scenarios and make pretty presentations and waste time “interviewing” employees to get information to present as their own. I got to interface with them on a semi-regular basis because I had a unique position that worked with a lot of different areas.

    I usually took one of two directions with the team – if they seemed competent and decent to work with then I fed them some ideas that I thought we could live with and they typically took the bait and those ideas ended up as their recommendations in their typical 50+ page PP presentation. I rarely saw them expand into any of their own ideas. If they were arrogant and argumentative (I don’t like to stereotype but these were typically white male Ivy league graduates with rich parents) then I fed them suggestions I knew wouldn’t work and lots of (real) data they could use to try and justify those conclusions but just couldn’t get there. They typically struggled to pivot to draw their own conclusions. If they dropped their arrogance then I would nudge them in the right direction, if they didn’t then not my problem – gonna make you earn your $500/hr.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      Yes, those are the jobs I’m talking about above. Very common for them to hire recent grads with little to no business experience, who don’t know any better.

      1. pancakes*

        I think the people hiring them know that those are the ideal candidates to put to work on tasks like fixing bread prices, or cutting costs to the bone, or advising pharma companies on how to maximize oxy sales. They’re eager to get their careers started, eager (or eager-ish) to put in lots of hours, and generally not eager or well-positioned to raise ethics issues about the work they’re assigned, issues which many won’t have context for or curiosity about to start with.

  55. Adalind*

    This is so frustrating. I don’t have anything to add except there really isn’t anything to do except look for a new job. I’ve dealt with similar issues managing social media for non profits (as volunteer gigs) and they always seem to be the same – those in charge will not listen to people who do it for a living, yet when some random person says it it suddenly makes sense or they have the most outlandish suggestions. Good luck to your husband!

  56. Still trying to adult*

    Consultant: A person the company hires. to fly in from far away to tell management what time it is on their own watch.

    Told to me by a consultant, albeit a technical one, who had to provide real solutions instead of just a written report that can be filed in the President’s office shelves.

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