What's common across all five of these factors - as well as across all four of this chapter's case studies - is that clients and consultants have to work closely together. If the consultants are bringing a new approach to solving a problem, then the client brings intimate knowledge of the context for that problem, what kind of solution is being sought, whether any attempt to resolve it has already been made. Each side needs the other in what is the antithesis of the outsourcing model - where suppliers (consulting firms, IT service providers and so on) solve problems on their clients' behalf rather than showing them how to solve them themselves. The organization that allows a supplier to take over the resolution of a problem learns how to manage suppliers, not how to resolve the problem. In some areas, this makes good economic sense: using a supplier's specialist knowledge to solve one-off problems is far more efficient than trying to build up in-house skills. However, where the problem affects an activity at the heart of your business (as dealing with complex and urgent customer issues was at Sun Microsystems) knowing how to solve the problem is vital.
Knowing how to solve critical problems is important for a more fundamental reason. One of the reasons why an organization's performance stalls is that the people within it find it hard to challenge the status quo. They do things the way they have always been done, and cease to believe that it is possible to change. Performance improvement is therefore just as much about altering this perception as it is about fixing a problem. By fixing a problem, people start to see that things can be different.
There is a famous story about Greg Brenneman, who joined the ailing Continental Airlines in 1986. Seeking to restore the company's image, Brenneman asked how long it would take to repaint all Continental's aircraft in the new corporate colours. Told that it would take three years, Brenneman said they would do it in six months - and they did. For the employees of Continental Airlines, it was a miracle - they had achieved something they did not think they could. Stories like this gain currency, illustrating important values intended as standards for the organization as a whole. They become, in effect, parables.
One sign of excellent consulting is that it knows when to stop. ‘Miracles' can only be performed by employees of an organization because it is their perceptions about their own capabilities that need changing - and bringing in consultants from the outside does not do this. Consultants can help improve operational performance - they can pinpoint a problem and provide some of the know-how to fix it. But they cannot perform miracles.