Letter to the Editor: Mobility consultants selling the dream

Letter to the Editor: Mobility consultants selling the dream

Mark Thomas Scherm
St. Augustine

Dear Editor:

This is in response to the mobility report article that appeared in The Record September 4, 2016, reprinted with attribution by Historic City News.

Having made my living as a business and manufacturing consultant for the last 20-odd years, I hope I’ve gained some insight into the ins and outs of using so-called experts for hire. When I read the phrase “paradigm shift” in the story, I had a bit of a laugh.

That’s the oldest boilerplate in the book. But then, when I saw the “next steps” in the report, using the words “review, evaluate, look into” and “consider,” I saw red flags flapping in gale force winds.

Basically, I flat out blew a gasket.

In the consulting industry as I know it, the first phase of an engagement is routinely called the analysis phase. This part of a project is often, if not customarily, conducted at no cost the potential client.

The objective, of course, is to deliver the client to an actual contract. Then, if the client consents to a “go-ahead,” the consultancy absolutely must provide a detailed key events and milestone schedule with quantifiable results in writing. (If you’re a reputable consultant, you know that virtually everything is quantifiable.) Additionally, it’s quite common for a consultancy to guarantee results; that is, if the results aren’t there, the client does not pay.

Consultants can be a valuable resource when used to solve specific technical issues. But they do have to be carefully managed. My coworkers often joke that you need consultants to manage consultants.

All too often these projects amount to smoke and mirrors. It’s not necessarily the consultants’ fault. Their first priority is to bill early, often, and extend a project as long as possible. It’s a tough business. Consultants call it “selling the dream.”

With the mobility study I see, first and foremost, a lazy political objective and a boatload of naiveté. Happens all the time.

Management (in this case, the city) hires consultants in order to say to the shareholders (that would be us), “Look how serious we are! We’ve brought in these experts!”

But these relationships get sticky. It’s hard for the client to disengage without losing credibility among the shareholders.

The consultants understand this. Oh, yes they do.

Personally, I see reams of reports and dollars going down a dead end street with the mobility study.

I don’t know a single resident who couldn’t have jotted down the bullet pointed findings in the story on a cocktail napkin in five minutes flat. And I’m guessing for less than $119,000.

Paradigm shift, indeed…

Mark Thomas Scherm is a results-driven professional with over 30 years of hands-on consulting and management experience. Scherm, who resides in St Augustine, has a proven track record as an Implementation Specialist, using change management and organizational development skills to achieve bottom line performance improvement in multiple industries.

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