In the early 2000’s, the COO of a major search engine company asked me to become an employee on three separate occasions. Each time I said “no”. The first two times she asked, I told her that I was happy as an independent sales consultant and had great prospects for the future. That was and is true. But only after her third attempt at hiring me did I reveal all of the truth.
The COO asked me to meet with her to discuss the work I was doing with the sales organization. I was contracted to build out a sales team that would attack the SMB market. Along the way I had uncovered some inconsistencies and areas of improvement that positively affected the generation of revenue in all of the markets the company addressed.
When I sat down with her she told me that she wanted me to join the company as a full time employee and that this was the last time she was going to ask. I said “no”. Then I told her why.
If I became a full time employee, my value decreased dramatically. Once hired, I would be forced to start thinking about my career first and the company second. As a consultant (an outsider looking in), I could be brutally honest about my view of the organization.
My second point to the COO was that once “inside”, my focus would have to be on my objectives as defined by my compensation plan. I would not have the luxury to seek areas of improvement unseen by other managers. It would also cause other functional area heads to question my motives when suggesting they make adjustments to their processes.
My engagement was originally for a 90 day project. It was ultimately extended to 16 months. It didn’t end because there wasn’t more work to be done, but because a large competitor bought them.
Throughout my career as an independent sales consultant I have been asked to close my practice and “join up”. Only once did I take the company up on the offer. And what I told the COO of the search engine company came true. I became one voice in a group of six, each of whom was looking out for himself first, and then the company. I had become part of the problem rather than the solution.
There are two takeaways from my experience that executive teams can use to improve their organizations. First, hire consultants to ensure objectivity in the evaluation of your organization without prejudice. And second, unless you want to lose that objectivity, don’t hire your consultants.