Daily Archives: February 4, 2009

We Don’t Need No Consultants

Today’s guest post is from Patrick J. Horgan of Paladin Associates.

Why Some Companies Don’t Seek Needed Cost-Reduction Help

Cost-reduction is essential in today’s economy, but unfortunately many managers have little experience in these activities. Mistakes in cost-reduction can damage morale, productivity, and can even precipitate a corporate death-spiral. Experts recommend independent cost-reduction consultants, but most companies don’t seek external help. Their reasons sometimes make sense, but they are often emotional and thought through poorly. Here are some common rationalizations which prevent many companies from seeking the help and getting the results they really need:

“We don’t need help.”
“We can do cost-reduction ourselves”. Or, “we should be able to do it ourselves.” “We already have cost-reduction initiatives.” “We will soon have cost-reduction initiatives underway.” “External consultants will probably try to take credit for things we have already identified.”

“We don’t want help.”
“Consultants may find things that are embarrassing or that we probably should have found. We may be blamed for these things.” “We will not be able to personally control what they find or communicate.” “We are currently too disorganized to undertake such an initiative.” “We don’t want a lot of change and turmoil.”

“We can’t afford help.”
“Consultants charge a lot, usually up front.” “We have no budget for this.” “We can do it for less.”

“We don’t believe consultants can actually help.”
“Consultants just feed back what we already know. They don’t actually produce results.” “Consultants won’t understand our business.” “How would we know if we actually saved anything?” “We’ve had bad experiences with consultants and cost-reduction projects in the past.” “External consultants are against company policy, or require high-level approval.”

“We are not the decision makers.”
“We don’t really know who decides this, and we don’t want to ask.” “Someone else is in charge of this; it’s not our job.” “IT/Telecom has sourcing responsibility; not Sourcing.” “IT and Telecom are under different organizations, yet buy off of the same contract.”

“It is not in my personal political interest to support this.”
“Cost-reduction can be risky… might result in reorganization, reassignment, budget cuts, layoffs, new priorities, loss of power, change — could be bad for me personally.” “Our boss doesn’t want to do this.” Or, “Our boss might want to do this, but we don’t.” “If this doesn’t work out, we might be blamed.” (But maybe we should pretend to be interested and slow-roll this.)

“We don’t have or control the resources to support such an effort.”
“We have other priorities.” “We don’t have good data on costs and spending.” “We don’t have the staff for this.” “We have lots of contract leakage as internal components are organizationally fragmented.” “To capitalize on many initiatives may require cross-functional cooperation and coordination which we don’t control, and priorities which we don’t have.”

“We don’t want to disrupt our vendor relationships.”
“We already have great prices.” “We depend on our vendors for things other than price.” “The supplier has a personal relationship with the CXO.” “We really enjoy the annual Vendor Golf Weekend at Pebble Beach.”

The Real Facts
Sometimes these rationales are valid, but most often they are not. Companies may have excellent relationships with their suppliers, but it’s inescapable that continuous competition improves the breed and reduces cost. Cost-reduction falls directly to the bottom line, and should be pursued aggressively despite fuzzy reasons to the contrary.

Even though companies “ought” to be able to run effective cost-reduction programs themselves, in reality they frequently do not. For many reasons — budgets, staffing, expertise, priorities, timing, politics, whatever — the opportunities go unmined… and the potential savings go unrealized. Or they are done in an amateur fashion, often with unintended consequences. Most companies don’t and probably can’t have enough qualified resources to do this thoroughly.

Cost-reduction consultants do this for a living, not just during the occasional recession… they are experts and know all the tricks. External consultants can often help cut through internal politics and conflicts of interest. They can catalyze stalled activities and get them rolling.

Independent consultants can help analyze spending patterns, and specifically focus on and drive results… particularly if they are paid on a percentage of savings realized. This approach eliminates upfront fees, reduces risk, and insures an excellent ROI. The money saved can pay for fees many times over. External resources can accelerate cost-reduction savings. Additional bandwidth leverages employees, and gets more done, faster. Time is money.

External cost-reduction experts jump-start and insure execution of cost-reduction programs that can preserve a business in times like these. Cost-reduction programs should be win-win initiatives, structured and empowered to encourage cross-functional cooperation. They should be supported and regularly reviewed by high-level executives, not just lower-level employees who may fear blame or loss of status.

Thanks, Pat.