Consultant Fun (1)

Is he really a consultant?

Many years ago, I wrote a report on supply chains for organic cotton from Africa. My client was a United Nations organization. The results were discussed at a workshop in Paris. Not only in the report, but also in my presentation, I stressed the need for a good business case. My presentations was about business drivers for sustainability: costs, brand and reputation risks, etc. I emphasised that just noble goals and good intentions would not work. If there is no money to be made, forget it. And I showed that making money in organic supply chains would not be easy.

After the presentation, a representative from a Dutch social NGO came to me. He said.

“Reinier, I have read your report and listened to your presentation. I had the feeling that you had written your report for a private sector company, not for a UN organisation.”

I did not exactly understand what he meant, and asked:

“What do you mean? I wrote a report on the opportunities for organic cotton supply chains from Africa and I summarised my results both in a report and in a presentation. What should I have done differently?”

The NGO representative: “I mean that such an organisation would certainly expect other issues, another tone and conclusions in a somewhat different direction …”.

My reply: “You may be surprised, but I always give the same answers to the same questions, no matter who asks the question.”

Some days later a friend and colleague called me, saying:

“My colleague from the Dutch NGO apparently met you in Paris. He was very surprised about your answer to his question. He had never met a consultant like you, he said. Consultants always write different stories with different conclusions for different clients. He expressed some doubts whether you are a consultant at all.”

Why do you think we hired you?

More than 10 years ago, I was asked to organise a strategic discussion on pretty complex issues in the Dutch Ministry for Environment. It was an interesting project with many participants with widely diverging views. It was not easy to produce results acceptable to all participants, but eventually the group managed to agree on a number of important issues and it was my task to write a report, which was certainly not easy. I asked the team leader in the Ministry: “What sort of report do you wish that I produce? A politically cautious report with all conflicts hidden in complex language? Or a direct account of what I saw, heard and thought during the process?”. His answer was short and simple. Actually it was a question: “Why do you think we hired you?”

[to be continued]