Getting beyond the 'bull' perception

Once there was a cattle rancher who had a problem: his cows hadn't borne any calves for a long time. He hired various bulls to do the job, but even though they appeared to work fervently at their task, nothing was ever produced.

One day the cattle rancher met an old friend he hadn't seen for years. As they were catching up, he mentioned the difficulty he was having with his herd.

"Oh, don't fret another minute," his friend replied. "I've got a prize bull that will take care of everything for you. I'll bring him over just as soon as I get home."

Shortly thereafter, the bull arrived, and was released into the pasture with the cows. A couple of days later, the rancher called his friend on the phone.

"Hey, you remember that bull you brought over here?"

"Yep. How's he doing?"

"Well, I haven't seen him do a thing — except he goes around to each cow and sort of whispers in their ears. After a few minutes he moves on to the next one, but he never does do anything more."

"Oh, well, he's not supposed to do anything — he's a consultant!"

A colleague told me this story right after I started consulting. It made me laugh, but it also made me think. Full oft in jest have I heard truth, I say.

Regular employees often view consultants as outsiders who aren't part of the team, spout useless buzzwords, don't get anything accomplished, collect big fees, and leave the project in a mess for them to clean up. Not without cause: I've worked with several consultants who deserved that reputation.

When joining a new project, how do you overcome the natural resistance from other team members?

  1. Get real. Just because you're a consultant doesn't make you a higher being, so don't behave like it does. If you're on-site, dress like your colleagues. Eat with them. Joke with them. Make sure your work area and equipment is equivalent to theirs. Most importantly of all, cut the jargon. Your team members can see what you're really saying with all those buzzwords — "look at how much I want you to think I know". Which is usually a cover for "I'm treading water", because if you know your subject you can express it in terms that anyone can understand.
  2. Get some skin in the game. Make sure that a well-defined part of the project belongs to you, that its success directly affects your compensation, and that your team members know that. They'll be much more likely to believe in your flight plan if they know you're not going to walk away from the crash site unharmed.
  3. Get on with it. Start producing. Hit the ground running. Beat your project deadlines. Team members will respect and welcome you if they see that you really can help them get the job done. Go out of your way to help team members become more proficient at what they do. At the same time, don't be condescending. Be willing to learn from your team members, and give them credit for their contributions. That will demonstrate that you aren't concerned with proving your worth to management at their expense. Make it plain that we're all in this together, and together we can get it done.

These are a few dynamics I've noticed when working with regular employees. How about you — what would you add? Do you have any experiences of evil consultants to share as negative examples?


Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

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