Wells Fargo recently announced that it would reduce its multi-billion-dollar annual spend on consultants. The problem is deeper than its budget and ranges far beyond the company.

The worst problem is in plain sight

Those of us not in on the racket have witnessed from afar those hushed, secret planning meetings to which we weren’t invited. We’ve provided answers to questions that often seemed oddly detected from what we knew was really going on, and usually had something to do with our budgets. Then, those damn binders (now digital platforms) have followed, diagramming how everything should work differently and that only half of us need stay employed to deliver it.

We’ve also seen the effects of these engagements: Mergers, acquisitions, splits and other financial legerdemain intended to “unlock value” but end up doing so only for executives’ stock plans…producing organizations that simply cannot function, and in which people have been pitted against each other as frequent layoffs end up being the most obvious deliverable.

Here’s a list of 37 of the worst train wreck mergers. Anecdotal examples of companies blown up by grandiose consultant-driven visions, like Boeing’s woeful outsourcing of its 787 airplane production, are common.

Companies broken by such systemic chicanery require repeat return engagements with consultants to “fix” the damage they’ve wrought.

Now, just think of how many companies reeling from the effects of the pandemic are planning equally inane management consultancy staff infections in hopes of finding answers to questions those same consultants should have seen coming on a prior gig.

Like I said, it’s a racket, and Wells Fargo is only an embarrassing obvious example of a wider problem, but it spent $758 million in 2Q20 alone on consultants.

You’d think that would be enough to get the actionable answers it needed, wouldn’t you?

A solution on one slide

From my vantage point as a communicator, I see the damage done by consultants on two levels: First, my agency has been tasked to implement the branding drivel and blather in those binders and dashboard logins, most of which looked great on PowerPoint slides but had no relevance to the real world.

A box labelled “thought leadership” rarely translates so.

Second, consultant infestations tend to rob employees of their inspiration, let alone authority to act. The very premise of “manager” as a job description vs. “doer” or “enabler” is an artifact of a bygone era, just as technological change has rendered obsolete many of the precepts of “management science.” Digital networks allow people to accomplish work, not oversee it, transforming owners of processes into owners of outcomes.

Or not, since no self-respecting management consultant would ever elevate the importance of individual initiative or responsibility over the vague values of an imagined process. What would it do to next quarters client billing?

And no self-respecting employees would dare step one inch beyond the confines of those garbage processes, since it might risk them losing their jobs.

There’s a better way

Here’s my solution: Put a dozen random employees in a room, task them with identifying the top 10 stupid things that should be fixed or stopped at a company, and the 10 smartest things that should be considered or added, and they’d need about an hour to complete the job.

And they’d be right.

Had Wells Fargo done so, I bet it would have gotten damn close to fulfilling the spirit if not the letter of its regulatory requirements. It might have generated some meaningful changes that the outside world would recognize and praise. And it might have saved billions in consultant fees.

Staff infections are curable, but they can be deadly if left untreated.

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