“Don’t Borrow My Watch To Tell Me What Time It Is”

by David Heitman

That was, without a doubt, the best line I’ve heard in a while.

It came from a recent conversation with a colleague who is considering hiring our firm. It spoke of his skepticism regarding consultants who would take a lot of time and cost a lot of money just to tell him things he already knew.

I agree with him.

A savvy business leader already knows why his/her business is successful and what needs to be done next, operationally and even from a marketing perspective. Thus, bringing on the wrong consultant or third-party provider can feel like they’re merely being hired to study your company and regurgitate what they’ve learned.

That’s an expensive academic exercise with little practical use, and good CEOs see right through it.

So a consultant better be able to add some serious value by offering fresh insights and truly original ideas. Sure enough, that all begins with taking the time to learn a company’s culture, history, competition, threats and opportunities. And that time, like the valuable time of a CPA or attorney who must do the same thing when initially hired, has to be remunerated.

The question thus lies in two things:

1) How quickly can the outside consultant move from studying to strategizing?


2) How good are the strategies?

A third question might be whether the consulatant can actually implement the strategies or merely recommed them (just like the old IBM commercial where the two young consultants have to confess to the CEO, “Oh we don’t actually do anything; we just recommend stuff.”

Outside consultants also provide another valuable service: a healthy dose of objectivity. Even while gaining the requisite “tribal knowledge” to build on a company’s culture and past success, a third party provider can provide parallax through the ability to view things from an expert, albeit unbiased, perspective.

I know from experience that having a third party provider of any given service can yield fresh insights and a healthy dose of objectivity. We had a team skills development expert, Tom Leahy, come and spend a couple days with us. My natural skepticism about such efforts was quickly allayed when, after two days with Tom, we were a changed and better team of colleagues. Proof is that we still use the tools and terminology Tom gave us three years ago to this very day.

A good consultant relationship can sometimes evolve into an intimate business relationship. One of the best compliments our agency ever received was when a client wrote our firm into his company’s organizational chart. Rather than staffing and equipping a creative services department for his company, he determined we were the trusted, turnkey solution. This arrangement took years to achieve, building trust in our competence and our commitment to their success along the way; but it also freed us to do our best work.


Perhaps the ultimate basis for evaluating a consultancy isn’t how good they are. It’s how good they equip you to be. It’s about finding someone who won’t just ask you for your own watch to tell you what time it is. It’s about finding someone who will help you rethink and reinvent time as a strategic asset with a measurable return on investment.