My first interaction with an outside consultant was as a manager for a large corporation. A co-worker and I reviewed a report, written by a highly paid consultant, that was riddled with errors. The obvious errors in the data made the conclusions based upon the errors range from questionable to flat-out wrong.
When I pointed out the errors to my vice president, she said the errors in the data were irrelevant since the resulting conclusions were accurate.
That was untrue. The clear message was that the VP had hired this consultant — her personal friend, as it happened — and no negative comments about the report would be allowed.
That’s when I began always to refer to consultants as slithering and slimy (I’ve since modified my ways), and I probably should have extended the adjectives to vice presidents as well.
What are you willing to get fired for? Many of us have been asked to do things on our jobs or in our lives that we might not agree with but that we do anyway. Or we might choose to stand up for our values and beliefs and live with the positive or negative consequences of taking a stand.
Where’s the line? It’s a personal choice.
When does saving our consultant friend from embarrassment over her obvious errors become sending a corporation down a path of poor decisions based on inaccurate data?
When does message spin and marketing become an out-and-out lies, deception, purposeful misdirection?
When do chants of “We’re Number One!” become harmful versus helpful when the United States is not number one in healthcare or education or other things we value?
The consultant and the VP friend who hired her should have accepted the errors in the report, apologized, corrected them and presented a new, accurate summary along with solid assurances that it would not happen again — and a discount on her bill.
If you tell me everything’s rainbows and unicorns, then I am not motivated to improve a situation that might actually be hailstorms and monsters. Such deception is potentially very harmful and at best maintains a sub-optimal status quo. Instead of marketeer moonshine, give me the data I need to make an informed choices or to improve the situation.
I don’t know what happened to the consultant who couldn’t see or — even when shown — admit to the errors in her report but as a colleague of mine use to say, “Feedback is a gift.” Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the value of feedback in the moment, but it’s true. The consultant’s errors likely continued, and how is that truly helpful to her or her clients?
I worry that we are moving toward being much more comfortable with building Potemkin villages — all false fronts and fake facades — than with addressing and fixing what we are working so hard in trying to hide. The effort spent trying to massage the message would be better spent improving the situation. We have no hope of progressing and developing as individuals, corporations, governments or a nation if we don’t own up to our deficiencies and gaps.
I’d much prefer to hear you say, “We’re not where we want to be, but here’s how we’ll get there, and here’s how you can help,” than to hear you say, “We’re great!” when we’re not anywhere near to great. Your deceptions are only helpful if your goal is never to be great. If your goal is eventually to be great, then it requires honesty about where you currently stand. Make the village great, and don’t waste time and energy on the Potemkin village.
Pretending we’re number one when we are not does not help move us toward becoming number one, and it demonstrates a lack of confidence that we can improve.
Be honest, and we’ll get there. Lie about where we are, and we’re stuck.