top of page
  • Mike Donoghue

"You must be a Management Consultant!"

I thought I would start the year off with a little light humour, at least I thought it was humorous when I first heard this years ago; when I worked for a large multinational company that hired lots of consultants. Now I am on the other side I still think it is funny; if not for its balanced view then perhaps for the grain of truth it contains, so here goes.

A man is flying in a hot air balloon above the Serengeti and realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a management consultant below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts, "Excuse me. Can you help me? I was told this was the best way to travel but it now appears I am a little lost and won't be able to get to my target landing on time."

The consultant below says, "Yes, you are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 40 feet above the Serengeti. Specifically, you are 2.33 degrees S latitude and 34.83 degrees E longitude."

"You must be a management consultant," says the balloonist.

"I am," replies the consultant. "How did you know?"

"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information and the fact is I'm still lost."

The consultant below says, "You must be a manager."

"I am," replies the balloonist, "but how did you know?"

"Well," says the consultant, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You ask for help without specifying what your objective is and you expect me to solve your problem. You have more information than you had before we met but now it is somehow my fault."


It isn't true for every company or every consultant, however for it to be repeated so many times there must be some truth to it. As the Canadian press have increasingly reported on the use of consultants by the government and the increasing costs with the subtext that the help hasn't solved the problem only created more problems, I thought I would take a look at what we think clients want and need in order to deliver a successful outcome.

At Helios Consulting we thought long and hard about what we think clients want and need and found the following to be needed.

  • A big-picture mentality with attention to detail. To put this another way if you are looking for help you need someone who has the breadth and depth of experience, and who understands the details of a problem and how the solution will impact the bigger picture. Understanding the law of unintended consequences also plays into the big-picture mentality but this is only one aspect of attention to detail. It also requires a level of quality that delivers accuracy, this means solid reasoning producing error-free deliverables. When I worked at Deloitte one of the partners was constantly reciting his mantra of clients paying us to get things right and that includes spelling and grammar.

  • The next one sometimes gets mistaken, which is to challenge clients' perceptions and misconceptions, but do it in a respectful and honest way. Telling a client what you think they want to hear, so that they keep coming back to you, can only work for so long. sooner or later the advice and support will lead down a path that results in either loss of credibility or demise of the client, think Enron. On every engagement with new clients, we have "The Talk" it sets out our commitment to three of our five values: Honesty, Integrity and Courage. (Want to learn more about "The Talk" and its importance in our engagement and success in setting expectations? Reach out!  We also won't tell you; we can do something, know something if we can't or don't.

  • Clients need to have partners who anticipate their needs and are willing to roll their sleeves up and "dig in" with them. A differentiator for us, and what we think sets us apart is that each of our consultants has knowledge of what it means to be part of a client company, they have a successful track record of performing the roles we advise on and they can anticipate the client's needs. The last two values we hold dear at Helios are; Commitment and Awareness.

There are obviously many more wants and needs that we think clients need and want that can be added to the list; however, the last key one I would offer and resonates with the current press perception is that we are here for a short time to solve a specific problem and train client teams to deliver. That's not to say we don't welcome the opportunity to come back and solve another problem. We just believe the role of a consultant is to do just that, consult on a problem and then leave your organization in a stronger better place. In the words of Nanny McPhee, "There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go."

Perhaps another aspect of Nanny McPhee is that at the start of the film, she has warts and a crooked tooth, however as she teaches more lessons and adds value, she changes in perception. Perhaps if we truly understood client needs and delivered on them consistently the consulting industry could change that perception too.

Want to discuss your consulting needs or how Helios can help you? Reach out, a call doesn't cost a thing!

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page