Is it me or is it my consultancy that’s crap?

70% of transformations fail, according to McKinsey.

This statistic would suggest leaders need the support of consultancies now more than ever. Consultancies offer an experienced external perspective, strategic support and heavyweight implementation expertise. In theory, they should significantly reduce the risk of failure.

There are signs this is true. According to Consultancy Europe, just over half (55%) of all consultants exceed or substantially exceed expectations–with transformation being the top reason to call in a consultancy. Perhaps the failure rate reported by McKinsey would be far higher without them.

But what about the large proportion (45%) of consulting relationships whose performance sit somewhere between just about meeting expectations and failing altogether? In such circumstances, is it right to hold the client or the consultant to account? Let’s look at it from the client perspective and then the consultant’s.

If you’re a client asking “Is it me?”

You might want to rethink your approach to managing your consulting relationships if:

You passively rather than actively manage consulting projects. You lose control of the agenda and, through fear, end up as a bystander in your own transformation. You allow your consultancy to be paralysed by operational, political or structural constraints. You don’t want or expect to get your hands dirty in the process of making change happen.

You encourage the consultancy to spend more time on presentation than conversation. You direct energies to be focused more on narrative content than problem-solving. You allow every meeting to orbit around PowerPoint. Your discussions have the atmosphere of a town council planning session rather than an engaging flow of ideas amongst equals. Your feedback is didactic rather than discursive.

You don’t pay, or play, fairly. You expect to receive outstanding work without understanding that the work required to create it has to be commercially viable for your consultancy. You let procurement run amok and don’t account for the fact that it often has limited domain knowledge. You are blithely unconcerned by scope creep or scope seep.

You haven’t spent any meaningful time examining your and your colleagues’ behaviour as clients from the perspective of those working with you. You are an advocate for change–except when it comes to you and your role. You’ve never got uncomfortable enough to ask the question: “Are we proving good to work with?” You believe that your status as the bill payer removes the need to ask this.

If you’re a consultant asking “Is it me?”

You might want to rethink your approach to client management if:

You haven’t codified the nature of the relationships you’d like to have with your clients. You’ve never mapped out the ideal arc of a client relationship from onboarding to exit. You haven’t identified what you’d like to achieve with every client who comes in through the door, and how delivering this will differentiate you from other consultancies. You haven’t understood that your projects are only a percentage of the workload that your clients have to manage every day, and set your expectations accordingly.

Your financial governance isn’t strategic. You have limited insight into client budgeting processes, and their implications for your commercial approach. You can’t or won’t address the financial implications of the changes to scope that will inevitably happen. You don’t discuss with your clients upfront how such challenges will be managed. You leave your business exposed, in so doing compromising your ability to deliver value.

Your leadership doesn’t properly empower its people. Your frontline teams fear the consequences of having difficult conversations, even if they’re the right ones. You don’t properly align internally and so end up changing your managerial tune with clients as situations progress. You undermine those on the frontline.

You end up mirroring the dysfunction of your clients in how you manage your relationships. In a desire to make as much money as possible, you become more adept at playing politics than driving change. You start to believe that value follows money, not the other way around. You abandon your arc of relationship, and go fully native.

In reality, most relationships will fail because of a number of these issues, and others besides. Start by asking the above questions internally and in your next review with your consultancy or client partner. Ask them in a spirit of openness and honesty. You might just be surprised by what you find out.