Fact free consultancy? You deserve better than that…

The phrase “fact free politics” was made popular in 2010 by Bill Clinton when referring to the performance of Sarah Palin, then running for office as the Republican candidate for vice-president. To be precise, he warned not to underestimate her as we were entering an era of fact free politics. As I stumbled over the phrase again recently, I was wondering what the equivalent would be in Management Consultancy. Does “fact free consultancy” exist? I think it does and not necessarily with the negative connotation associated with the political edition of the term.

What data supports this?

Obviously a consultant who is building an advice on data should verify the sources used and ensure the proper use of statistics and the traceability from facts to any conclusions drawn from them. At the same time I see less and less data that is exclusively available to consultants. The amount of data being available on-line is almost eradicating the role of consultants as a source of information. In the sourcing market for example, an attempt to provide up-to-date information on vendors, products and services (including benchmarking of pricing levels) requires significant and recurring effort in working with an increasing list of suppliers. All this will not guarantee that a client with a very specific question and some basic search-engine-skills can not find a better answer. Raw data requires analysis to become of any use and here is still a role for analysts and interpretors to add value but collecting and selling data alone is no longer a viable business model.

An attempt to provide information without a proper analysis of the underlying facts is hardly more than expressing an opinion. It is this type of behaviour that potentially gives a negative ring to fact free consultancy.

There are many roles for consultants apart from providing information and insight for which the added value is not directly related to the availability of data. Consultants can act as mediator in conflicts, as facilitator and moderator in complex processes, as auditor assessing consistency or in exceptional cases as referee. In all these different roles the consultant brings his experience and applies his skills and insight to address critical challenges and resolve complex problems. All of these examples illustrate that fact free consultancy exists and deserves better than to be associated with its political counterpart.