Why employ consultants?

After the Oscars fiasco, laid firmly at the door of management consultants PriceWaterhouseCooper, the Guardian has this to say:

“These big companies and the legions of highly paid experts are supposed to be delivering measurable results, yet it seems most of what they touch runs worse than before.

So it’s worth asking what it is they are actually selling that is worth so much.

The first, obvious answer is plausible deniability. If a management wants to slash its workforce then it is obviously better that the bad news be delivered by outsiders who can be blamed later.

This evasion of responsibility may well be worth a great deal to the managers concerned, if not to the other stakeholders of the enterprise.

This motive overlaps or shades into another, more interesting one. The one thing that consultancies and even accountants are meant to deliver is objectivity – and from that springs authority, which is what they’re really selling.

Someone who comes along with an air of confident command will always find followers even if they know nothing about their subject, providing the followers are more painfully confident of their own ignorance.

The vocational education of the English ruling classes taught the art of bluffing at the speed of thought – and though this skill is indispensable at the bar, and still more in the House of Commons, unfortunately it’s not the best way to make really important decisions, as the career of David Cameron so catastrophically demonstrates. …”